Charles Allen: Look after your feet and they will look after you
At Sportlink, we obviously see a few feet over the week.
I am currently working with the team to integrate loads of exciting stuff for our customers so they can enjoy even more unbeatable product support.
So far, this has included a day being trained by the IBA (Intrinsic Biomechanics Association) in foot mechanics and literature review of the latest gaiting science. We don't claim to be clinical, but we certainly can help you understand a lot about how you move and offer information from the latest leads in this area.
When playing lots of sport, we must consider tissue care and foot conditions. A subject that isn't often the topic of breakfast or dinner table conversations throughout the land. For some, the state of their feet can be a subject of embarrassment, leading them to cover up rather than addressing changes going on.
For this discussion we will split into two areas.
1. How coping with, rather than dealing with, foot conditions impacts in our nervous system and its ability to function with the rest of our intrinsic biomechanics system.
2. How to look after the health of the tissues which govern the stimulation of this system.
Both can lead to functional changes and, although initially separate issues, can develop to cause these more extreme effects.
Foot decay and the reduction in mechanical performance tends to take place over a long period of time. Therefore, we tend to cope rather than deal with any issues until they cause pain. A huge blister can stop you in your tracks but an area of hard skin or even a wart may slowly affect the way we land due to avoiding the pain it can cause without addressing it with the same urgency.
As conditions develop, we also experience changes in proprioception (our awareness of the position and movement of our body) and sensations whilst going through our movement gait.
Remember we move in patterns that avoid pain and discomfort but that doesn't always mean it's healthy for the posture of the body. We can cause structural loading changes in our hip which can set off a variety of potential injuries.
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On a more serious note, people with diabetes or other immunodeficiency conditions should take changes in foot condition and health even more seriously and seek medical assistance.
I am currently training for a multi-day ultra and, as such, have encountered new hard skins sites on my feet that I need to take care of as hard skin can become a site for a plantar wart.
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I've also been spending more time in the sauna and the pool so have been doing all I can to ensure my immune system stays strong so I can avoid picking up warts and verrucas. Damaged skin can allow for such things to really take hold.
Athletes foot is also a condition which is common in those who play sport and regularly sweat for long periods of time in socks and trainers.
Our feet have not caught up with the evolution of wrapping material around them. Buying products that help clean the inside of the trainers by killing potential problems need to be carefully selected as may affect the various foams and qualities of the shoe itself.
Structural changes to your feet can include collapsing arches, bunions, hammer toes. These can have more of an affect on the performance of the foot's mechanics. These often cause visual deformities such as toes crossing or rubbing against each other. In some cases, especially in early detection exercises to correct this can be assigned.
In conclusion, the best thing to do is act before problems arise. Regularly washing and powdering the feet and trying to stay on top of developing hard skin. Allowing enough development to help build a resistance to the blistering that many beginners encounter but equally not allowing a build up which can press into other soft tissues and cause pain.
Look for signs of fungal infection. Such as smelly feet even arising soon after washing or showering, increased moisture/sweating outside of exercise and redness around the nails all are common signs your skin and nails are not happy.
There are many over the counter solutions that you can try which if caught early yield great results although be warned, if they seem to not be working cease and seek medical advice.
Structurally, look for signs of changes to your feet. We are all armed with phones that take pictures. Take photos of your arch, toes and make note of the general shape and feeling when barefoot walking. Don't forget the famous wetting the sole of the foot and walking on paper or concrete to see the mark you leave behind. These are all great markers that can help early detection.
A visit to a podiatrist is often a good investment. Feet mechanics are their thing. Whereas for more general maintenance you may want to find a chiropodist. If it has been going on for a while and you think it has caused you to move differently and now you are finding aches in the knees, hips and spine then a visit to a physio or a biomechanics team might be able to help with that.