How can I look after my feet?

Each month, leading integrative health expert Dr Andrew Weil gives his definitive answer to a medical question


How can I look after my feet?

The first step in taking better care of your feet is finding and wearing shoes that fit well. Problems can develop as a result of ill-fitting shoes. If not corrected early, foot and ankle disorders can become painful and cause subtle changes in gait that stress other joints, including our knees, hips and the lumbar spine. Make sure your shoes are appropriate for your daily activities, and that they do not slip or bind when you walk.

Aim to buy shoes in the afternoon, when your feet are at their largest as they tend to swell, and have them measured while standing. Because one foot is typically bigger than the other, try on both shoes. Buy comfortable footwear that doesn’t squeeze your toes. Avoid high heels, as they force your feet into unnatural shapes, potentially leading to bunions and chronic pain.

I enjoy being barefoot – it stimulates the feet and can be relaxing. Practitioners of reflexology often advise their clients to walk on smooth, round stones when barefoot, and a handful of studies have found that walking barefoot may provide general health benefits. Just be careful where you walk. Proponents of earthing, also called grounding, recommend going barefoot to create direct physical contact with the earth. Beyond enjoyment, adherents believe that doing so supports the exchange of electrons between our bodies and the earth’s surface, resulting in enhanced health.

A small number of studies say that grounding may be associated with improved sleep and reduced stress, but the precise mechanism behind these changes, including the possibility of electron transfer, requires further study.

Flip-flops will keep your feet well ventilated, however habitually wearing them, especially the inexpensive versions, in which the sole is essentially a flat foam pad, can contribute to foot or leg pain. A better summer choice would be to wear flip-flops or sandals with built-in orthotic support.

The warm environment created by wearing shoes and socks is perfect for odour-causing bacteria and fungi to thrive. A good home remedy for foot odour is to try soaking your feet in cooled black tea, which contains tannic acid that may help reduce sweating. Avoid so-called ionic footbaths – often billed as detoxifying – as there is no evidence that they provide any health benefits. Reflexology, getting a foot massage or gently massaging your own feet, helps relieve localised muscle pain and can leave you feeling relaxed.

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