The forces that go through your foot as your heel leaves the ground can reach up to two or even three times your body weight. Now multiply that by the average 4,819 steps per day a Canadian adult takes, and add in age-related changes like the loss of the fat cushion on the sole of the foot, and it’s easy to why up to 87% of us will experience foot pain at some point in our lives.
Still, until not that long ago, I could only appreciate that fact on an intellectual level. As someone who’s been fortunate enough to have worked from home for most of my career, I long ago gave up high heels, pointed toe boxes, and the other traits of fashionable shoes that can contribute to foot pain.
But a few years ago, I gradually developed hard, painful lumps of skin— called corns—on three of the toes on my left foot. I was used to having a corn on the sole of each foot—they didn’t bother me while wearing athletic shoes, and I could easily slough them off periodically after a soak in the tub. The ones on my toe tips were more of a nuisance—plus, they were new, which made me wonder why they’d suddenly appeared. Plus, I started getting pain in the ball of my foot. What could have changed?
I’ve interviewed a number of chiropodists and podiatrists over the years for stories on foot problems. And while I respected their expertise, the thought of someone not just touching my feet, but possibly using a sharp instrument to shave down the dead skin on the corns made me shudder.
After several weeks, however, the discomfort wore away that reluctance. I discovered a chiropodist that held weekly clinics just a few blocks from my house. The cost of the appointment would be mostly covered by my partner’s extended medical plan. I called and quickly got in.
The consultation was pretty low key. The chiropodist examined my feet, had me briefly walk back and forth as she watched, and cast a critical eye at my name brand running shoes.
In layperson’s terms, the toes on my feet don’t stick straight out—they sort of scrunch, although they’re still flexible enough that I can straighten them out using my hand, for instance.
Corns are a result of ongoing friction or pressure. Normally, the tips of your toes don’t come into contact with the ground, or the inside of your shoe. However, the two longest toes on my left foot were doing just that, which caused corns to form.
The chiropodist informed me that my most recent pair of running shoes weren’t good for my feet. She recommended looking for a running or walking shoe with a list of specific features. At the top of the list: a relatively stiff, thick sole with a certain type of ‘rocker’ bottom, which would take pressure off the ball of my foot. I believe she said the rocker gently stretch my toes out with each step, too.
The optimal shoe would also have a wide, symmetrical toe box—one with a uniform width. (By contrast, the sneakers I’d been wearing had a very flexible sole, relatively little cushioning, and and flared out from the middle toe-ward, before narrowing considerably at the tip.) It should also provide good cushioning and support. She even gave me the name of a couple of brands that make shoes with the right type of rocker sole.
I was to try out the new shoes for a month or so to see whether they helped, as well as performing several sets of toe-stretching exercises daily. If I was still having pain, then I should return, and we could talk about possible next steps–such as custom shoe inserts to correct the position of my feet.
Finally, she asked whether I would like her to reduce the corns on my toes. I won’t lie—I momentarily had second thoughts when I saw the tool she was going to use was a scalpel. I gather that reaction is pretty common—a chiropodist I once interviewed told me she’d had patients nearly faint at t he sight of her instruments.
I was pleasantly shocked to find that I didn’t even feel any pressure, much less discomfort or pain, during the minute or it took to pare down the hardened skin. And the relief was immediate—when I stood barefoot, it no longer felt as if tiny stones were digging into my toes.
Rather than try and pick out a shoe that ticked all the right boxes on my own, I decided to go a store that solely sells one of the brands the chiropodist had recommended. Good decision: the store had staff who knew their stuff.
The salesperson measured my feet—turns out they were a half-size bigger than the shoes I’d been buying—and after listening to the list of necessary features, brought out the model that met the chiropodist’s specifications. Sold.
Despite the fact that I stopped doing the toe exercises after just a few days, my feet almost immediately started feeling better, and soon I was pain-free. I could barely believe that fixing or managing the problem could be so simple. (Once I’d seen the chiropodist, I started paying more attention to my gait, too, and realized that while was working out on the elliptical, I tended to ‘clench’ my toes. Breaking that habit may have helped, too.)
Those toe corns have never reappeared. And I’ve since replaced that pair of shoes twice.
Needless to say, if you’re having problems with your feet, I’d highly recommend you see a foot specialist. That single visit was one of the best investments I’ve ever made.
My heartfelt thanks to the interviewees who so kindly shared their time and expertise:
- Dr. Helen Rees, a podiatrist at Atlantic Podiatry, in Quispamsis, NB, and the Vide-President of the Canadian Federation of Podiatric Medicine.
- Dr. Matthew Turanovic, a podiatrist at YEG Foot and Ankle in Edmonton, AB.
- Nadine Webster, president and chief chiropodist at Kawartha Total Foot Care in Bobcaygeon, ON.