Sheldon Gardner can often tell if your feet hurt by watching you walk, and even by examining the soles of your shoes.
“If the treads are worn on the inside of the sole, underneath the toe, it means your foot pronates, or rolls in, when you walk,” says Gardner. “If the bottom of the sole is worn on the outside, it means the person’s foot is most likely supinating, or rolling out.”
Halifax-based Gardner has been working as a certified pedorthist since 1996. He calls himself a “foot mechanic” because he is trained to assess a foot’s structural and biomechanical abnormalities and to help correct them.
He explains that pronation can lead to arch, ankle, knee, hip and low back pain. Supination can lead to the same problems but for different reasons. Pronation usually leads to soft tissue pain because the lower limb is out of alignment. A foot that supinates usually does not absorb shock well, so there is extra force on the other weight-bearing jonts, causing joint pain.
In addition to fitting people for and making orthotics (insoles that help realign the foot’s bones and joints and offer cushioning), he teaches his clients how to buy appropriate footwear (pointy-toed, three-inch heels don’t make the cut), and how to stretch properly.
Unfortunately, there are not a lot of stretches for the foot. “The most important stretch is for the calf muscle,” he says. “If the calf muscle is really tight that can contribute to pronation.”
The most common problem he sees is plantar fasciitis, an inflamation of the plantar fascia, which is a band of tissue that runs from the heel to the ball of the foot. “It is usually caused by over-pronation, which causes the arch to lengthen,” says Gardner. “This pulls and stresses the plantar fascia.”
Plantar fasciitis pain often occurs on the inside of the heel where it starts into the arch, or on the bottom the heel. It tends to be most noticeable first thing in the morning when you get out of bed, or when you have been sitting for awhile and go to stand up. Treatment may involve icing, calf stretching, new shoes, or orthotics.
Wearing comfortable, stable footwear throughout your lifetime is the best way to prevent foot problems from developing, but frequently, fashion trumps function.
“My biggest demographic is women between the ages of 35 to 40 and 55 to 60,” says Gardner. “That’s partly because women wear high heels, which are a big cause of foot pain in that age group because they’ve been wearing them for years, and partly because women are more proactive about their health than men, who tend to ignore problems.”
There are various causes of foot pain, including bunions, fallen arches, hammer toes and heel spurs. Left untreated, foot problems causing pain can lead to even bigger health concerns, such as a premature breakdown of the joints, or osteoarthritis, as well as knee, back and hip pain.
So how do you know whether you should visit your family doctor to get a referral to a certified pedorthist? “If your foot pain is starting to inhibit your everyday lifestyle,” says Gardner, “it’s time to make an appointment.”