Compared to men, women are more vulnerable to specific foot problems, the majority of which are the outcome of years of walking in high heels that squeeze the forefoot and tight-fitting shoes that cramp the toes. More than often, women suffer from ankle and arch issues, some of the most common ones are listed below, alongside ways to treat each problem.
The arch is a crucial structural feature of the foot as it allows the foot to support the weight of the body (when we are standing up) with the least weight. It has been found that the arch can bear as much as 300000lbs of stress per mile we walk.
As we get older, the arching between the heel and the ball of the foot falls in many people, causing instability and pain. Poorly-fitting footwear can also lead to fallen arches. Given that the drop occurs too slowly to notice, we usually realize we have fallen arches until it has been happening for quite some time.
How to treat: Arch flattening is a painful condition. If not appropriately addressed, the symptoms (ankle swelling and pain) will intensify. Buying shoes with a proper fit can help support or even prevent fallen arches. Your doctor may also prescribe anti-inflammatory medication in combination with orthotics in the early stages of the condition to help avoid surgery in later stages.
Bunions occur when the lower bones in the big toe jut out, usually because an ill-fitting shoe applies pressure on the joint (i.e., when wearing high heels), forcing the big toe to shift and come closer to the other toes. The result is a lump that appears on the outer side of the big toe. Considering that the joint at the base of the big toe is the one that supports most of our weight when walking, bunions can cause constant and acute pain. Bunions don’t happen overnight – they develop over an extended period of time. If left untreated, the joint could be affected by arthritis.
How to treat: You may act proactively by wearing proper footwear, or if the problem is already there, your best options include insoles and supportive orthopaedic shoes, which will help ease the discomfort and pain. An equally effective solution is bunion correctors, which are worn at night during sleep. Do bunion correctors work? Yes. They physically push the big toe back into its normal place (aligned with the other toes) and help halt the progression of the bunion. They won’t fix the underlying problem as it is an issue involving the bones (and surgery is the only way to get rid of bunions completely) but they will significantly alleviate the pain and help keep feet comfortable.
When wearing shoes that are too small for the feet, a toe (or multiple ones) becomes curved as it is forced to curl up to fit into the shoe. The longer it has to maintain that position, the more scrunched up it gets. In the end, it will be extremely difficult (if possible at all) to lay flat when you are not wearing shoes.
How to treat: If the hammertoe is not the result of a muscular problem, the most effective, non-invasive way to retrain the toe into getting back to its default position is a Budin splint. The toe is placed inside a strap (elasticated) while a pad is positioned beneath the ball of the feet and toes. The combination of the strap and pad will help keep the toe in the right place and flatten it out. In severe cases, surgery is the only option.
Besides wearing improper footwear, women also experience overuse injuries, especially those that are engaged in intense activities (see marathon runners and triathletes). However, foot stress fractures in a woman (particularly in the pre-menopause years) can also be a sign of loss of bone mass.
How to treat: Being proactive is key. When foot pain occurs, it is critical that you seek medical advice. Other treatments include orthotics and, of course, plenty of rest. Finally, a bone density test will help diagnose osteoporosis before a foot fracture occurs.
Calluses form when the skin on the bottom of the feet thickens after prolonged friction or pressure (for example, after a lot of walking). This is also the case with corns (the difference is that they form on the top of the foot or the toes), which is why these two conditions are essentially the same thing. Feet with calluses are more prone to skin cracking, which increases the risk of infection.
How to treat: Using foam wedges, orthotics and wearing more comfortable shoes can help reduce the likeliness of having calluses or corns formed and ease the immediate pain. If you want to be proactive, give yourself regular footbaths and remove dead skin with a pumice stone (this is great to prevent and treat blisters too). If the problem is advanced, your doctor may need to shave the area, though.
Although women are more susceptible to foot problems than men, the good news is that if you wear proper footwear, train correctly, and take all precautionary measures you can significantly reduce the risk of experiencing some of the most common foot conditions in women.