Foot Pain

How to prevent and deal with foot pain on a bushwalk

When our feet hurt,
we hurt all over. Socrates

Foot pain is most likely caused by injury, disease, trauma, some biomechanical misalignment or a poor choice of footwear. Walking and weight bearing for extended periods in poorly fitting footwear or on an injured/inflamed foot leads to pain and tenderness, with the potential for long-term problems.

Below are some common foot complaints with short- and long-term treatments in the bush and at home, and prevention methods.
Important: If foot pain persists, seek medical attention. Some of these conditions must be treated effectively early on to prevent long-term problems.

Heel Pain
Heel pain refers to the extreme discomfort felt through any part of the heel. It can be caused by:

  1. Overuse: Repeated impact on a specific part of the foot.
  2. Plantar fasciitis: Inflammation of the tissue that runs along the bottom of the foot connecting the heel with the toes. This is often a result of a biomechanical problem such as flat feet.

Prevention
Try a heel cup or cradle, heel or an orthotic to absorb shock. Select footwear that has good arch support and heel height.

Management:

  1. In the field: Take frequent rests; consider shortening the trip; seek medical attention if pain gets worse.
  2. Back home: Rest and recover until pain subsides, reduce physical activity.

Achilles tendonitis
The Achilles tendon inserts into the heel from the back of the leg and controls flexing movements of the foot. Achilles tendonitis is the inflammation of the Achilles tendon, resulting in a sharp shooting burning pain and should be treated to prevent complications.

Achilles Tendonitis can be caused by:

  1. Over-pronation: The arch of the foot collapses under weight-bearing and the foot tends to tilt inwards on a flat surface
  2. Poor footwear fitting
  3. Short Achilles tendon
  4. Trauma to Achilles tendon
  5. Inadequate stretching and strengthening before an activity

Prevention
Stretch well before heading out on a walk to warm up the muscles. Try a heel cup or cradle, heel or appropriate orthotic to control for over-pronation and support the longitudinal arch.

Management

  1. In the field: Take frequent rests; consider shortening the trip; seek medical attention if pain gets worse.
  2. Back home: Rest and recover until pain subsides, reduce physical activity. Apply ice afterwards and avoid walks with steep uphill climbs.

Arch Pain/Strain
Arch pain can be the result of inflammation or burning of muscles associated with the arch of the foot.
Arch pain/strain can be caused by:

  1. Foot injury or structural imbalance
  2. Plantar fasciitis: Inflammation of the tissue that runs along the bottom of the foot connecting heel with toes. Often a result of some biomechanical problem such as flat feet.

Prevention
Use well-fitting footwear with good shock-absorbing soles. Consider an orthotic to give good arch support and prevent overpronation.

Management

  • In the field: Take frequent rests; consider shortening the trip; seek medical attention if pain gets worse.
  • At home: Very important to treat this condition before it worsens. Rest and recover until pain subsides, reduce physical activity. Avoid shoes with heels.

Bunions
Bunions are a prominent bump on the inside of the foot beside the joint of the big toe. They’re a common foot problem caused by the big toe bone moving towards the smaller toes and it’s possible that the big toe rests above or below the second toe. Bunions may cause swelling, inflammation and soreness and in extreme cases may cause walking difficulties. The analogous problem (a Bunionette) may also occur on the outside of the foot at the little toe joint due to the little toe moving inwards towards the fourth toe.

Prevention
Bunions are more common in women and are thought to be associated with wearing dress shoes that are too small for the toes. Select shoes with a wide toebox.

Management
At home: Bathing feet in warm water; wearing properly fitting shoes preferably with a wide toebox; orthotics for additional support, comfort and protection. Some people find bunion shield effective at reducing pain and limiting bunion formation.

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