I love the East Coast; my feet do not.
May 25, 2011 4:17 PM   Subscribe

When will my feet toughen up and stop hurting?

I just moved to the East Coast, where I am now walking about a mile to work every day. I am in fairly good shape, and used to walk on a treadmill for exercise, but walking so much on pavement is a new experience for me. My feet are killing me! I have been here a month at this point, and they only seem to be getting worse. I also should mention that I have pretty much the worst feet ever - no arch at all, metatarsalgia, and arthritis in my big toe, just to put the cherry on top.

So my question is, am I being a wimp? Is foot pain here a fact of life that I just have to deal with? Or do I need to get my feet checked out? I am wearing my best tennis shoes currently, flats and sandals didn't even come close to doing the job. I am looking into getting some Danskos this weekend, to see if that might help. However, I really am becoming concerned that I might actually be harming my feet, rather than strengthening them. Any thoughts?
posted by backwards compatible to Health & Fitness (12 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Do you have "oof, so much walking!" foot pain, or like foot pain foot pain?

Typically, if you're just having pain from walking more than usual, continuing to do so isn't really a matter of strengthening your feet, per se. You're strengthening all the muscles in your body that enable you to walk longer distances.

If the rest of you is fine, but you have specific foot problems that are bothering you, then you should see a doctor.

If it's just taking longer than you thought to adapt to life in a walkable city, keep on keepin' on. I personally don't think a month is long enough to go from fully car dependent to complete city-footedness. It took me years to get to the point where I could walk a couple miles without really feeling any effects.
posted by Sara C. at 4:51 PM on May 25, 2011

I'd get checked out by a podiatrist, orthopedist or perhaps even a rheumatologist (depending upon what kind of arthritis you have and if it could be flaring, either due to the increased walking on pavement or just coincidentally). Maybe a good pair of orthotics will solve your problems or maybe you'll need to go on some sort of anti-inflammatory. In the meantime, try soaking your feet in epsom salts at night and taking a preventative aspirin before you hit the pavement. Good luck; foot pain is no fun.
posted by kaybdc at 4:55 PM on May 25, 2011

There are so many ways a foot can hurt. There is plain old "on my feet for too long" pain, which many people do acclimate to, but then there's plantar fasciitis and stress fractures and things that will not just go away and in fact will get worse if you just tough it out. Then there's bad shoe pain, which could be relieved by wearing a more suitable walking shoe for walking and then changing into dress shoes (if necessary) for work. (Or, I have found, simply buying more expensive shoes if you wear cheap shoes.)

A podiatrist would be able to help you identify what kind of pain you're having and what to do next.
posted by Lyn Never at 5:27 PM on May 25, 2011

I am curious if your pain is located or also affecting things further upstream as well (ankles, calves, etc) -- I had been having some ankle and leg pains recently, and was looking through some exercises/stretches using foam rollers and lacrosse balls. One thing that was suggested was rolling the ball under your foot. Now, I hadn't really had any serious foot pain, but when I rolled the ball under my foot it was excruciating. That led me to realize that I had pretty tight plantar fasciae, which could be affecting or affected by tissues that wrap up around the ankles, up into the calves, hamstrings, etc.

My point was, I hadn't even really thought how closely everything was tied to together -- and how loosening up some tissue in one spot could be helping tissue in another. While you still should probably see someone if you are constantly in pain -- I would suggest trying some things like rolling a tennis or lacrosse ball under your foot, using a foam roller on the muscles in the calf and hamstrings, etc. You are probably not used to walking and using lots of little tendons, tissues and whatnot that are new -- while your larger muscles can cope, the little guys (like the tissues of the foot) are probably struggling. I would think you may even want to consider a shoe with less support, since some of the minimalist runner communities suggest that a lot of the more over-reactive corrective shoes we use are really weakening exactly these sorts of things.
posted by This_Will_Be_Good at 5:36 PM on May 25, 2011

Hey, I have arthritis in my big toe as well! I suspect you know that a good orthotist can make insoles to alleviate the pain and the problem. This might help if the problem is mechanical rather than just something to get used to.
posted by bluedaisy at 7:41 PM on May 25, 2011

I am wearing my best tennis shoes currently

Are you playing much tennis? You should really visit a decent sporting-goods store and have them recommend a brand of sneaker that's not only optimized for walking, but makes sense for your particular foot profile.

As a fellow member of the zero-arch club, I can attest that being fitted for some Brooks running shoes, specifically recommended for arch support, made a huge difference. (For non-sneakers, I get by with off-the-shelf insoles with prominent arches.)

Danskos are a mixed bag, in my second-hand experience; comfortable, but potentially injurious, especially on uneven pavement, because of the complete lack of ankle support.
posted by staggernation at 8:03 PM on May 25, 2011

I'm an 11-year New Yorker, and my life -- or rather, the life of my feet -- has been saved by getting some good orthopedic inserts. I'm flat-footed as the dickens, and suffer from plantar fasciitis. The Dr. Scholl's stuff just doesn't cut it, I went to FootSmart and found some good stuff (on recommendation from another AskMe thread about foot pain!) that really solved all my problems. Also in terms of sandal/flip flops, I recommend the FitFlop. It doesn't do a wet slap in terms of the lower body toning it promises, but it provides great support when walking for both your feet and your lower back.

When I first moved here, my feet hurt, my legs hurt, and I got blisters, but they got better after a while. If it's not getting better? See a doctor, and get good stuff to put in your shoes/better shoes. You aren't being a wimp.
posted by whitneyarner at 8:35 PM on May 25, 2011

Are you playing much tennis? You should really visit a decent sporting-goods store and have them recommend...

In some parts of the US, "tennis shoe" is equivalent slang to "sneaker".

I still find it weird to call them sneakers, personally. In the back of my brain, they will always be tennis shoes. Pronounced "tinnushooz", of course.
posted by Sara C. at 9:54 PM on May 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

How old are your current sneakers? Sneakers aren't actually designed to last for as long as most people keep wearing them, and will gradually become less supportive over time. Walking shoes may be a better bet for your situation. When you go try on those danskos, try some eccos, mephistos and naots too. Those brands are all supportive but still flexible, and might be easier on your arches.
posted by dizziest at 11:31 PM on May 25, 2011

There are also people who advocate for walking barefoot as a solution to posture-related pain. Apparently shoes are designed to have you walk differently than your body is designed to have you walk.

In my town, a lot of people have been wearing the Vibram 5-fingers lately (which appear to me to be overpriced and not particularly durable), but there are also a fair number of people who simply go barefoot, especially in the summer.
posted by aniola at 12:05 AM on May 26, 2011

I went through your exact experience recently - I went from not walking much on pavement to talking a mile each way to/from work. I also have messed-up feet. It took my feet several months to adjust. It seemed like a really long time! Now I absolutely love my walk.

As previous people mentioned, orthotics can be really helpful.
posted by medusa at 8:36 AM on May 26, 2011

I also went from walking from my front door to the car and from the car to office door to a life without car, relying on public transport and walking lots in the last 9 months and here is what I found:

- Most of my shoes were completely unsuitable for more than minimal walking.
So I am a girl and yes, there was a good chance that my shoes were not going to be suitable. But it turns out that even my flatish, comfy shoes were unsuitable for my new lifestyle was a bit of a shock. Chances are that a lot of your shoes are unsuitable because they do not support your feet properly. You may need to buy new shoes. If you do buy new shoes buy them in the afternoon when your feet are biggest and go somewhere where the shop assistants understand about feet and about how shoes should fit. Make sure any new shoes have adequate arch support in particular.

- Insoles are great for flat footed people and may allow you to keep your existing shoes. But know that all insoles are not made equal and that there is a huge range in terms of quality in off the shelf insoles. If your problems do not improve with off the shelf insoles go and get fitted. Yes this costs a lot more but personally I'd rather be painfree.

- Make sure sandals have proper arch support - most won't. The only sandals I have found that are suitable for walking for any distance are my walking sandals and a pair of Scholl sandals with decent arch support.

- TLC goes a long way - be kind to your feet. Get a pedicure once in a while and look after them by trimming nails neatly, moisturizing to avoid painful cracked skin, quite literally putting your feet up every now and then etc.
posted by koahiatamadl at 8:03 AM on May 27, 2011

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