Help, my feet are killing me!

PHOTO: Help, my feet are killing me!

There is nothing like talking to a podiatrist to make you gulp and wish that it is easier to throw away that sky-high pair of Louboutin pumps you'd saved up for months to buy on Net-A-Porter.

But reality hits home, nonetheless. One of the main causes of foot pain in women is walking in heels for long periods, causing the forefoot to laboriously handle all the body weight.

It's a pretty mean thing to subject the feet to, but getting women to live without heels is a podiatrist's losing battle, right from the onset.

"If I have a magic wand, sure, I will make high heels (especially those above 2.5 inches) vanish so that fewer women will have foot problems," says Australian podiatrist Brendan Bergin. "But most women refuse to live without their heels... so in the end, it's about minimising the damage, not about the perfect footwear."

By the way, the perfect pair of shoes is, and will always be, a pair of athletic shoes, Bergin says firmly.

"They are designed for maximum performance, with maximum cushioning, solid fastening, good heel grip and good arch support for those who need it," Which are what feet need, really.

There is no such thing as perfect shoes beyond the realm of athletic shoes, but for some compromise, both men's business shoes and women's flat shoes give average performance. The perfect pair of heels does not exist in a podiatrist's dictionary, because "high heels transfer the body weight to the front of the foot and foot joints struggle to cope with such weight."

Perhaps the reason why Christian Louboutin, Manolo Blahnik and Jimmy Choo (the three biggest names in gravity-defying, sexy footwear) thrive is solely because of aesthetics, because heels make legs look longer, give wearers extra height and make them look slimmer. At the price of foot pain, for some.

To be fair, the foot is a complex organ made up of 28 bones and 40 joints and layers of muscles. It's a hardworking structure that is made to work even harder with improper footwear choices.

"The foot is able to mould to various terrain, but problems arise when you expose the foot to one terrain constantly. Poor posture, over-exertion and excess body weight also stress out the ligaments and muscles. Such repetitive strain will cause feet to hurt, eventually," Bergin says.

"And as you age, ligaments become less elastic and flexible. They cannot stretch the way they should, so it's even more important to make good footwear choices."

The shoes scene in the city, Bergin says, has changed so much since he first came here 12 years ago when "it was so hard to find shoes that combined looks that my customers would wear with support that I would approve of. I think, over the years, that Scholl has done a great job in making practical shoes. I can't stock shoes in my office, so it's good to have footwear choices in the market that my customers can go out and buy as per my prescription.

When trying on shoes, make sure they fit properly — not too tight, not too loose.

"When trying shoes, find a fitting according to your foot type. Most people who live in hot countries have broad feet because their feet have not been enclosed in shoes from a young age. They often wear open-toe sandals, so they have wider feet.

"As a rule of thumb, the metatarsal bone should be just slightly below the arch of the shoe to allow slight foot movement so your feet don't move sideways when you are walking. And there should be a thumb's width from the longest toe to the shoe, which means your toes can wiggle inside the shoe but your heel shouldn't slip in and out when you walk," he says.

There are more women than men seeking treatment from him but Bergin can't say that there are more women than men who suffer from foot pain. "Women are generally more proactive in getting treated. Men prefer to self-treat, based on what they can buy in pharmacies. But the prognosis is better for men because they tend to wear better shoes and what is needed are just some adjustments.

"I think women need to have good judgement when buying shoes to minimise pain and also deformity resulting from repetitive strain. Wear heels only in certain circumstances and limit this to a few hours daily. It's not just foot pain that you will suffer from, but calluses, bunions, joints and knee pain. It will affect your entire body," he says.

Not all women will suffer from foot pain because they wear heels. Some women, he says, can go a lifetime of wearing heels without pain. "Some people cope better than others, especially if they are thin and have strong leg muscles. But it's best to make sensible decisions and avoid trouble later."

If the shoe fits

If the shoe fits...

Here's a checklist to make sure your footwear is well-fitted to your feet.

1. Length: Ensure that there is a 1cm room between your longest toe (not necessarily your big toe) and the shoe.

2. Width: You should not be able to see the outline of the little toe bulging through the shoe.

3. Depth: Your shoe should not be too deep because it will lead to creasing, or too shallow, meaning your shoes are too tight.

4. Instep: If you have a very high instep (which is the part between the ball and the ankle), certain types of shoes like slip-on heels will not be suitable for you.

5. Arch: The contours of the shoe's arch should suit the natural contours of your foot arch.

6. Top lines: Make sure the edges of the shoe and the straps don't catch the skin around the ankle bones, heel and top of foot.

7. Heel grip: Your heel shouldn't slip up and down when you walk.

8. Walking: You should find walking comfortable and easy.


Relief for tired soles

Relief for tired soles

Put a spring to your step with these simple exercises to bring strength to tired toes:

- To relieve toe cramps and strengthen feet: Stand up straight and evenly balanced. Let your weight drop onto your heels then curl your toes inwards. Straighten and repeat 10 times. Try this if you have toe cramps or pain in the balls of your feet. And for overall strengthening.

- To massage the bottom of your feet: Roll a gold ball under the ball of your foot for two minutes. It massages the bottom of the foot and help relieve discomfort in the heels, cramps or arch strain.

- For strong and flexible feet and toes: Lie on the floor with legs up. Then imagine your toe is a pen and sky-write the numerals one to 10 in the air. Repeat with the other foot.

- To relieve tension in your feet and increase strength: Lie on the floor and hold foot upright - toes up, heel down. By flexing your ankle, point your toes toward you, and then reverse the direction to point your toes away from you. Repeat 10 times.

- To strengthen your toes: Place 10 small, blunt objects (like marbles or coins) on the floor. Pick up each object by using your toes to curl around it. Drop each one in a bowl or jar. To make sure you use all your toes, try a pencil as another variation.