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Caring for Your Feet

Many Gardeners to Experience Foot Pain This Season

Many gardeners will experience foot pain this season as a result of overlooking the needs of their feet. But a few minutes of preparation and good common sense can keep gardeners comfortable all season. Dr. Paul Kasdan offers foot fitness tips for healthy, pain-free gardening.

Many gardeners will experience foot pain this season as a result of overlooking the needs of their feet. But a few minutes of preparation and good common sense can keep gardeners comfortable all season.

"Gardening is an exertive weight-bearing activity and should be considered a sport rather than a passive hobby," said Dr. Paul R. Kasdan, founder and medical director for OurHealthNetwork.com and author of its specialty site, OurFootDoctor.com. "As with any sport, one should make sure to wear appropriate foot gear, and to properly stretch before engaging in the activity."

During weight-bearing activities or sports, the feet play an important role in supporting weight, balancing stance to reduce falls, and movement. They also act as shock absorbers. Foot problems commonly associated with weight-bearing activities like gardening are usually due to wearing inappropriate footgear, or the lack of proper warm-up exercises.

"To always be pain-free, the feet must be encased in the proper shoes and socks. If the shoes do not provide proper support and cushioning, then the feet lose efficiency and problems eventually occur," Dr. Kasdan said. Here are a few of Dr. Kasdan's shoe and sock recommendations:

  • A rounded-toe shoe with a deep toe box helps prevent pain due to corns and bunions, ripped and black toenails, toe blisters, and ingrown toenails.
  • Rubber soles prevent bruises when stepping on stones, and they provide good shock absorption for the entire body.
  • Loose socks with mild elastic compression at the top will ensure good circulation to the feet.
  • Socks made of a lycra and cotton blend are very efficient at keeping the feet cool and wicking sweat off the feet.

Before doing any work in the garden, take a few minutes to stretch your feet. Get ready for physical exertion! These are two exercises Dr. Kasdan recommends:

  1. Lunge exercise to stretch the Achilles Tendon. Facing a wall, stand about three feet out and lean onto the surface with arms shoulder-width apart. Keeping your back straight, move your right foot towards the wall until it is about one-and-a-half feet away. With your left foot straight, bend the right foot until you feel a stretch in the Achilles Tendon. Hold this position for 15 seconds and repeat with other leg. Repeat several times.
  2. Ankle rotation. Sitting on a chair, extend your right foot and rotate your toes toward you. Hold for five seconds. Then to the right, down and to the left, holding each position for five seconds. Rotate your ankle in a complete circle. Do this for one to two minutes on each foot.

"We recommend this warm-up routine for our patients that garden and have found it to be effective in preventing symptoms associated with 'out of shape' feet," said Dr. Kasdan.

Gardeners are also encouraged to give their feet attention at the end of the day. To prevent additional foot problems, Dr. Kasdan advises his patients to wash their feet well and examine them for blisters, sores and inflamed areas. Should these conditions arise, treat them immediately with first-aid cream, or see a podiatrist. More information about these conditions and more than 50 other conditions that commonly affect the feet and ankles is available at .

Also, remove the inner-soles of shoes and let them dry out. With more than 250,000 sweat glands in each foot, feet are among the most perspiring parts of the body. In one day, the feet can produce more than a pint of sweat.

Foot Problems which May Be Associated with Gardening

Bruised toenails and ingrown toenails may be due to:
1. stubbing a toe or dropping a heavy object on it.
2. wearing a shoe that is too short.
3. wearing a shoe with a shallow or narrow toe box (the area where the toes sit in a shoe is called the toe box). When the toe box is too shallow or too narrow, the toenail/toenails will rub against the top or sides of the toe box, and may become bruised or ingrown.
4. cutting the toenails too short or rounded may produce ingrown toenails (the nails should be cut straight across, and always let them be a comfortable length).
5. kneeling for long periods of time will put abnormal pressure on the toes and toenails; this may cause bruising.
6. socks act as a cushion and reduce friction on the toes and feet. Not wearing socks allows the toenails to be exposed to unnecessary friction; this may cause bruising.

Swelling may be due to:
1. gravity is the most common cause of swelling of the feet and ankles. When the legs are in a dependent position (standing or sitting), gravity pulls blood and our lymph fluids down to our feet and ankles. This swelling can be reduced with the use of compression or support stockings.
2. socks which have elastic on the ankles may cause swelling by restricting the normal flow of blood and lymph fluids.
3. uncontrolled high blood pressure.
4. high heat and humidity. If you are working in this type of climate, then take frequent "cooling breaks," and sit with your legs elevated.
5. too much salt can cause water retention and swelling of the feet and ankles.

Foot and toe cramps may be caused by:
1. kneeling for long periods of time. This may reduce circulation to the feet and toes by constricting blood vessels, causing muscles to become oxygen starved, and this leads to cramps (muscle spasms). Getting up frequently and walking will help to prevent this.
2. socks and shoes that are too constrictive may cause cramps for the same reason. Make sure that the elastic on your socks is not too constrictive. Make sure that shoes are the right size.
3. being "out of shape" and stressing leg and foot muscles for long periods of time may cause cramps. Gardening is exertive. Build-up the time you spend gardening gradually, and stretch your legs often.

Throbbing and aching feet may be caused by:
1. too much weight-bearing activity for you, either due to physical problems (overweight, age, illness, etc.) or "being out of shape."
2. worn down shoes, or shoes that do not fit properly.
3. foot pathology such as bunions, hammertoes, heel spurs, etc.

More information about these conditions and more than 50 other conditions that commonly affect the feet and ankles is available at .

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