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Suffering from foot pain? Statistically, you aren’t alone. In adults over the age of 45, it’s estimated that 20 – 25% can have foot/ankle pain. Dealing with pain of any kind can negatively impact day-to-day life, but foot pain affects every step you take. With musculoskeletal complaints being one of the most common reasons people go to the doctor, foot pain should not be dismissed. If you are dealing with foot pain, here is more information and suggestions to help support your feet naturally.
Causes of Foot Pain
In general, older adults are most affected by foot pain. Women are more affected than men and typically, those with a high BMI are at a higher risk of having foot pain. Additionally, it’s not uncommon for people with foot and/or ankle pain to also have pain in other places such as their hips or knees.
There are many different causes of foot pain. Some of the most common reasons are accidents and overuse. If you have foot pain after an injury, it’s recommended you see your doctor as you may have a sprain, fracture, or ligament/tendon injury. Overuse can happen when walking miles on hard surfaces or standing in one position for most of the day. And, there are other causes of foot pain. Diseases such as diabetes and arthritis can cause nerve damage or joint pain respectively. Infections from fungi or viruses (think athlete’s foot, warts, etc.) can also cause pain. Wearing shoes that don’t fit properly or are worn out can also be responsible for foot conditions. For example, it’s strongly suggested runners replace their shoes at least every 500 miles. Finally, genetics and the way you move can lead to foot deformities such as bunions and bone spurs which can also cause pain.
Natural Therapies to Help with Foot Pain
Soft Tissue Therapy. This is where we come in! Massage therapy (along with physical therapy, chiropractic, and acupuncture) can be helpful in cases of acute or chronic foot pain depending on the cause. Specific techniques include massage, trigger point therapy, reflexology, gentle stretching, IASTM, or gua sha respectively are shown to be the most helpful.
Barefoot Walking/Minimalist Footwear. Walking barefoot has been gaining popularity over the last few years. Modern-day humans commonly walk in shoes that have thick soles, reducing ground feedback and feeling through the feet. This also can weaken the muscles in your feet, potentially leading to chronic pain over time. It’s recommended to walk barefoot outside and slowly introduce it. Start by walking outside for just a few minutes, and gradually increase the time by a few minutes every week or two. This can help strengthen the foot and lower pain in conditions like shin splints and plantar fasciitis. If going barefoot is not for you, minimalist shoes might be a solution. One study compared minimalist shoes which have a flatter sole and wide toe box to going barefoot, and both were found beneficial to improving gait and foot health.
Dietary Support for Foot Health
Eating well can affect many different areas of your body, and this includes the feet. Research has shown high inflammatory markers are associated with foot pain. This means the more inflamed your body is, the more likely you are to have foot pain in the first place. Maintaining a healthy weight and blood sugar through diet is very important.
One way to help with this is to balance your calorie intake by consuming 40% carbohydrates, 30% protein, and 30% fat. Eating this way has been shown to be anti-inflammatory as well as promoting weight loss, improving blood sugar, and increasing meal satiety. While correcting your eating habits it is important to remember carbohydrates should mainly be whole vegetables which contain complex carbohydrates. Additionally, consuming a diet high in omega-3s, from fish and grass-fed proteins, can be helpful. Eating foods high in minerals such as magnesium and calcium can also support the feet and overall musculoskeletal health.
Other Supplements to Consider
Protein. Protein is critical to good health. Proteins in your body are built from essential amino acids which must be eaten in your diet, or non-essential, meaning your body can make them itself. These molecules are the building blocks of your body. Proteins make up your organs, hair, and nails. They are also responsible for sending messages, fluid balance, maintaining pH, building cells, transporting nutrients into cells, and even helping create energy in your body. If you have edema, mood changes, weakness/fatigue, are frequently hungry, have a poor immune system, etc., AND foot pain, you may not be eating enough protein. You can add protein by eating more plant or animal proteins, or by adding a powdered protein supplement to your daily regimen.
Collagen. Collagen accounts for one-third of protein in the human body. It can be helpful with reducing chronic pain in muscles and joints. Collagen is generally in powdered form and is water-soluble. It is sourced from bovine, porcine, marine, and poultry sources. Vegan and vegetarian options are starting to become more available. It’s recommended to consume between five to fifteen grams of collagen daily. Pairing this with a regular exercise routine seems to make collagen supplementation even more effective.
Vitamin C. Vitamin C is a potent antioxidant present in many different fruits and vegetables. This vitamin is necessary for creating the triple-helix structure of collagen, allowing for soft tissue repair throughout your body. Research has also found it can help reduce pain in a variety of situations from chronic diseases to surgery. This can be taken as a supplement (1,000 mg two to three times daily) or by eating vitamin C-rich foods including bell peppers, broccoli, kale, spinach, guava, strawberries, currants, cantaloupe, etc.
To Sum It Up…
Foot pain can be hard to deal with, and it affects daily activities. There are many different natural methods to consider when looking to manage your foot pain at home. As always, seek professional help in the case of sudden acute pain, especially after an injury. Talk to your health practitioner before adding any new lifestyle changes to make sure they are a good fit for you and your health goals.
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- Hawke, Fiona, and Joshua Burns. 2009. “Understanding the Nature and Mechanism of Foot Pain.” Journal of Foot and Ankle Research, 2(1). doi:10.1186/1757-1146-2-1
- Health Partners. N.D. “Why Does my Foot Hurt? Here are the Top Causes of Foot Pain” Retrieved Aug. 29, 2023. https://www.healthpartners.com/blog/foot-pain-causes/
- Ithaca College. 2015. “Going Barefoot: Strong ‘Foot Core’ Could Prevent Plantar Fasciitis, Shin Splints, and Other Common Injuries.” ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/11/151117181929.htm
- Jones, E. R., et al. 2019. “Comparison of Graston Technique Instrument-Assisted Soft Tissue Mobilization and Stretching for the Management of Chronic Plantar Heel Pain – A Pilot Study.” Journal of the American Podiatric Medical Association. doi:10.7547/16-105
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- Petersen, E., Zech, A. & Hamacher, D. 2020. “Walking Barefoot vs. with Minimalist Footwear – Influence on Gait in Younger and Older Adults. BMC Geriatr, 20(88). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12877-020-1486-3
- Richmond, Christine. N.D. “Signs You Are Not Getting Enough Protein.” Revised Dec. 02, 2022. https://www.webmd.com/diet/ss/slideshow-not-enough-protein-signs
- Sears, Barry. 2015. “Anti-inflammatory Diets.” Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 34(1): 14-21. doi:10.1080/07315724.2015.1080105
- Siefkas, Anna C et al. 2022. “Foot Pain and Inflammatory Markers: A Cross Sectional Study in Older Adults.” Journal of Foot and Ankle Research, 15(1): 57. doi:10.1186/s13047-022-00565-0
- Thomas, M. J., et al. 2011. “The Population Prevalence of Foot and Ankle Pain in Middle and Old Age: A Systematic Review.” Pain, 152(12): 2870â€“2880. doi:10.1016/j.pain.2011.09.019