Monday Medical: Healthy feet are happy feet

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Summer is almost here. However, before running out the door in those flip-flops, think about what they do to your feet.

It can be tempting to slip those soft, flimsy excuses for footwear between your toes. It also can be tempting to eat an entire carton of ice cream by yourself. That doesn't mean it's healthy. A good rule of thumb to apply to trendy shoes is to think of the adage we employ for our vices: use in moderation.

Kristen B. Boyce, DPM, of Steamboat Podiatry clinic, knows Steamboat Springs is an active community. With the transition from winter to summer, he expects to see some of us hobble through his door with complaints from overuse injuries or pain caused by poor choices in footwear.

Boyce recommends a few steps toward prevention:

- Don't spend excessive time in flip-flops, other unsupportive sandals or Crocs

- Wear stable, supportive and appropriately fitted shoe gear with socks

- Build up to the appropriate fitness level and stretch your calves

Knowing your foot type and selecting the correct shoe can improve health by leaps and bounds. There are three general types of feet: high arch, normal arch or flat arch.

If you have trouble finding comfortable shoes with enough support, a podiatrist, physical therapist or even a specialized shoe store can help determine your foot type and recommend shoes to match.

Because many feet swell during the day, it is best to try shoes on in the afternoon. Bring the socks you plan to wear with the shoes. Finally, go by feel before and after you try on the footwear.

"The shoe should be stiff enough you can't twist it," Boyce said. "The heel cup should be firm and hold your heel in place."

Once you try them on, ask yourself if your feet feel comfortable.

"First impressions are usually pretty good," Boyce said. "If your little toe feels tight, try a shoe that is straighter."

While improperly fitting shoes can lead to foot and heel pain, not wearing socks can lead to other ailments such as blisters, calluses and even infection.

"The key is moisture management, so avoid cotton socks," Boyce said. "Wool and synthetics wick away moisture and help prevent common problems."

Foot and heel pain also can be treated with orthotics, an insert for the shoe that supports the arch and, in some cases, improves the foot's ability to control function.

"Almost everyone would benefit from orthotics, but not everyone needs them," Boyce said. In less than an hour, Dr. Boyce can evaluate your feet and fit you for custom orthotics.

Boyce said orthotics range from the very generic (one size fits most) to custom-fit, all of which can improve comfort. Generic varieties cost less and offer less support. Custom orthotics not only specifically fit your foot to accommodate pressure points, they can be designed to help control the function of the foot.

Athletes find that high-end orthotics give them a competitive edge. As a former ski racer, Boyce noted that orthotics allowed him to get on edge quicker.

"Fit feet finish faster," Boyce added.

As local residents transition from winter sports to their summer activities, Dr. Boyce sees many patients with overuse injuries caused by lack of foot support.

As you begin to train, it's key not to jump too far ahead. Scott Blair, physical therapist and assistant director at Yampa Valley Medical Center's SportsMed, said the feet take a beating by doing too much too soon.

"Just like marathon runners begin with shorter runs and build up, so should everyone with their given activities," Blair said. "Build up your duration, intensity and frequency."

Blair also advised that because muscles in the foot are attached at the calves, stretching your calves helps alleviate tightness in the foot.

Boyce urges people not to put up with discomfort or pain. Any foot swelling, discoloration, changes or abnormalities should be evaluated by a physician. Any nagging pain that doesn't go away after a period of rest also should be evaluated.

It's OK to wear flip-flops for fun, just not in excess. And if your shoes hurt, march on down to your favorite shoe merchant and treat your feet.

Riley Polumbus is communications specialist at Yampa Valley Medical Center.

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