Happy Feet: The Healthy, Pretty, Pain-Free Foot Care Guide

Ericka McConnell/Fitness MagazineEricka McConnell/Fitness MagazineBy Shaun Dreisbach

  • They contain a quarter of all the bones in your body.
  • They log, on average, 1,000 miles a year.
  • They absorb one-and-half times your body weight with each step.
  • And they get zero respect.

We're talking, of course, about your feet. Sure, you may treat them to the occasional pedicure or prop them up at the end of a long day. But experts say we ought to be much, much kinder than that. "The feet are the second-hardest working part of your body. The first is your heart," says Steven Ross, MD, president elect of the American Orthopedic Foot & Ankle Society. "Your feet are your foundation; if they hurt, you're going to be a very unhappy person." So let's spread a little love. Here, everything you need to know for feet that feel good all day, every day -- no matter what you put them through.

Related: Soothe Your Soles: Feet-Pampering Tips

5 Pain Solutions
1. Foot Cramps: Those weird muscle spasms that can make your toes or arches lock up.
Make it better: Drink plenty of water, especially when you're active (dehydration is a major cause), and strengthen your feet. "We don't use the small muscles in our feet effectively, so lactic acid builds up and the muscles go into spasm," says Dr. Ross.
Try this: Sit in a chair, place a hand towel on the floor, and pick it up with your foot. Continue, alternating feet, until your toes are tired, and repeat daily.

2. Plantar Fasciitis:
A sharp pain under your heel due to inflammation of the tissue that connects your heel bone to the base of your toes.
Make it better: Take ibuprofen (if approved by your doctor) and rest your foot for a week or so, advises Dr. Ross. When you start exercising again, take it easy.
Try this: Stretching can help. Cross the ankle of the foot that's bothering you over your opposite knee, then bend your toes back with one hand as you massage the arch of your foot with the other. Do this for 30 seconds three or four times a day. If the pain persists, see your doctor, who may give you a cortisone injection to reduce the inflammation.

Related: Pick Your Perfect Pair of Running Shoes

3. Plantar Warts: These crop up on the soles of your feet and are caused by a viral infection.
Make it better: Apply an over-the-counter wart treatment, such as a salicylic acid patch. If it doesn't clear up in a few weeks, see your doctor for a more potent in-office treatment, such as freezing the wart off, says Dr. Ross.

4. Stress Fracture:
A small crack in a bone in your foot (for runners, often in the forefoot) that causes pain and swelling. Suddenly upping the intensity or frequency of your workouts can cause this, says Dr. Ross.
Make it better: Go easy on yourself. Light, low-impact exercise -- walking or swimming -- is okay if it's not painful. Otherwise, take a break for a few days. Stress fractures often heal on their own, but if the pain persists after several weeks, see your doctor to rule out a more severe break, advises Dr. Ross. Once you're feeling better, be sure to up the intensity of your workouts gradually.

Related: How to Know When It's Time for Physical Therapy

5. Achilles Tendinitis: A sharp pain above your heel bone that occurs when you stand or walk, caused by inflammation of the tendon that runs up the back of your ankle. People who have mild cases often notice the pain only after exercising.
Make it better: Avoid strenuous activity for a few weeks and take a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen (if approved by your doctor) to ease soreness and swelling. And be sure to stretch the area before working out. "Wearing heels, then exercising without stretching first, puts extra stress on the tendon," says Dr. Ross.Try this: To limber up, lower your heels off a step and hold for 10 seconds. Do this two or three times daily, with your knees bent, then straight (this hits different parts of the tendon). As with any injury that is very painful or doesn't get better in a few weeks, see your doctor.

4 Big Fat Feet Lies

Lie #1: Flip-flops are totally foot-friendly.
They may seem ideal, but traditional flip-flops don't have support or cushioning. So chances are, your feet will hurt after walking in them for a few hours, says Jim Christina, director of scientific affairs for the American Podiatric Medical Association. In fact, wearing flip-flops for long periods can lead to tendinitis, arch pain, and ankle sprains.

Related: Heal Better: Smart Workout Pain Solutions

Lie #2: Foot size and width stay pretty much the same.
Pregnancy, weight gain, even the simple fact of aging can cause ligaments in your feet to stretch, making them potentially a half to a whole size larger, says Donald Bohay, MD, an associate professor of orthopedic surgery at Michigan State University.

Lie #3: Some foot pain is completely normal.

"Definitely not!" says Dr. Ross. Any discomfort means that you need to wear different shoes, give your feet a rest, or change the surface you're exercising on (by switching to a treadmill, for example, which is more forgiving than concrete or pavement).

Related: 4 Ways to Prevent Walking Aches and Pains

Lie #4: The best athlete's foot prevention is wearing flip-flops in the locker room.
It helps, but what really causes this virus to grow and spread is trapping your feet in a moist environment (like sweaty socks or sneakers that aren't well-ventilated) after being exposed to it. Immediately after exercise, swap your sneakers out for a pair of treads.

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