By Quinn Russell Brown, Special to The Herald – Do your body a favor and start on the right foot. Or the left one, if the right one’s too sore. Whether you stand all day, bounce around a basketball court at night or squeeze into heels on the weekend, it might be smart to step into a podiatrist’s office in 2016.
“Right now, there are a lot of bad feet out there,” said Dr. Edward Chesnutis, a podiatrist with clinics in Silver Lake and Seattle.
More than 75 percent of Americans experience foot pain, but less than a third of those afflicted say they would consider visiting a podiatrist, according to the American Podiatric Medical Association.As much as we rely on cars, buses, elevators and whatever carries us around, it’s impossible to get from A to B without hoofing it.
“Your foot is your foundation, and it’s basically your transportation,” said Chesnutis, who treats twisted ankles, crooked toes, spurred heels and — close your eyes if you’re squeamish — crumbly fungal nails.
Podiatrists see patients from all walks — and limps — of life: pigeon-toed toddlers, aching ballerinas, concrete-treading Costco workers, diabetics with nerve damage and teenagers whose stinky shoes aren’t allowed past the front porch.
Genetics shape your sole. Some people are born with flatter feet, others with higher arches. But you don’t inherit foot problems, Chesnutis said, you inherit the form of the foot. If Mom and Grandma had bunions — swollen bumps on the inside of the foot — that doesn’t mean bunions are hereditary, it means the bone structure is, and that structure can be prone to bunions.
Throbbing feet aren’t inevitable. “If you can make somebody’s mechanics and posture more efficient, then theoretically you should be able to slow bad progressions down,” Chesnutis said. “It’s kind of like a buying-time mode.”
Your shoes matter just as much as your genes. Ill-fitting footwear, especially high heels, are to blame for many podiatry visits.
“Humans are notorious for not wearing shoes that fit right,” said Jo Mitchell, the office manager at Chesnutis’ Silver Lake clinic. “We go for either style or price factor. They don’t necessarily fit correctly, which causes foot issues, which causes knee issues, which causes hip issues and back issues.”
Shop smart. First, get your foot measured — both length and width. “The width can be super important if you have a predisposition to bunions, or crooked toes,” Chesnutis said.
There’s no standardization in the shoe industry — one company’s 8 is another company’s 7.5 — so try before you buy and be wary of shopping online for shoes. “You’re taking a risk,” Chesnutis advised. “Now, have I done it? Yes, I have. I’ve gone to Johnston & Murphy and lucked it. It’s buyer beware.”
And one pair might not be enough. “If you wear a pair of shoes today, especially in the Pacific Northwest, they’re probably going to get wet,” he said, noting that damp shoes and socks can lead to conditions like athlete’s foot. “It’s good if you give them a 24-hour period to dry out.”
What’s harder than falling in love with a pair that fits right? Getting rid of them. “People have a tendency to hang on to shoes too long,” said Chesnutis. After a year, shoes can lose their shock absorption and develop an abnormal lean.
Chesnutis said women are more willing than men to make appointments. “Sometimes it’s like pulling teeth. I’ve had guys who come in and say to me, ‘The only reason I’m here is because my wife made me come in.’ ”
One example: A patient who stepped in a pothole while running to catch a bus. An X-ray revealed that he had snapped a bone. “His jaw dropped,” Chesnutis recalled. “He said, ‘You know what? I owe my wife an apology.’ ”
As far as prevention goes, ease into workout programs rather than diving in. And don’t neglect hygiene — clean between your toes and try to trim your nails straight across rather than in an arch. Stiff in the morning? Write the ABCs with your toes before you roll out of bed.
To a certain extent, just do what works for you.
“We have patients who put duct tape on callouses,” Mitchell said. “It works for them.” Still, home remedies are no answer for all problems, she said, especially if you need to serious treatment or surgery.
Check what your insurance covers. When you need a podiatist, someone else might foot the bill.