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Hurt feet hurt all over

ALBANY -- Some of the most common foot problems can cause issues throughout the body that patients might not expect. Area experts are now speaking out on what can be done to relieve the pain.

Some of the most common foot disorders include bunions, hammer toes and Achilles tendinitis. Bunions are classified as an abnormal, bony bump that forms at the base of the big toe, causing it to crowd against the other toes, while a hammer toe is a toe that is curled due to a bend in the middle joint.

"We commonly see these in women who wear a lot of high heels," explained Mary Thompson, a physical therapist with Phoebe Physical Medicine.

Achilles tendinitis is a condition of irritation and inflammation of the large tendon in the back of the ankle. It's a common overuse injury that tends to occur in recreational athletes.

"Oftentimes the heel can become very swollen," Thompson said.

Achilles tendinitis can lead to small tears within the tendon, making it susceptible to rupture.

At times, defects in foot mechanics can interfere with mobility, mainly over-pronation and over-supination. Over-pronation is usually associated with flatter-foot types, or when the ankle and rearfoot roll to the inside. It is also commonly associated with "knock knees," which can cause degenerative changes and pain in the knees.

"By far the most common thing we see is low-arch foot," said Phoebe Physical Therapist Sue Freeman. "We see this a lot in women. If we can catch them early, we can keep them from progressing."

Supination occurs when the ankles roll out too much, a condition usually associated with a higher arch in the foot that is more rigid.

"Their problem is shock absorption," Freeman said.

Dr. Glenn Dowling of Albany Podiatry said he has seen an increase in heel pain over the last few years.

"Our lifestyle of standing or walking on concrete contributes," he said. "Tight leg muscles also contribute."

Physical therapy can help relieve such problems. One of the first things a therapist might recommend is wearing a supportive shoe both indoors and outdoors, as poor footwear can be a source of the problem.

"This is the hardest thing to get people to do," Thompson said.

Generally, the experts say a running or jogging shoe is the best choice because they are more lightweight, shock-absorbent and durable.

"It's critical to have a shoe that's good," Freeman said. "You've got a better quality with a running shoe.

"Most people buy a shoe for what it looks like, but you've got to match (a shoe choice) with the shape of the foot."

Roughly 60 percent of a person's weight is distributed onto their heel as they are walking, which makes wearing comfortable and effective shoes critical -- as opposed to the dress shoes some women are accustomed to wearing.

"(High heels) put stress on the heel, and dress shoes have to be snug," Dowling said. "They are more of an ornament; they are not functional shoes."

An orthotic, a device used in the shoe that helps neutralize foot and ankle placement, can unload pain and provide shock absorption and can be an ideal solution. Such devices can be either temporary or permanent. Temporary orthotics can be placed on the insert of a shoe in the appropriate area. A permanent one can be produced by casting a patient's foot and sending the mold to a manufacturing facility to later be placed in the shoe.

"There are a ton of options," Freeman said. "Orthotics make a tremendous difference with balance."

Physical therapy intervention can include exercises such as stretching, balance training or aquatic/pool therapy.

"There is hope for painful feet," said Phoebe Physical Therapist Kathleen Ellis. "We can get active."

Modalities such as electrical stimulation, ultrasound and taping can also be used to help relieve pain.

"We can help unload pain without intervention, but it is sometimes very difficult for the body to break the cycle," explained Ellis. "We can help people get educated. There are a lot of habitual things people do (that can hurt them)."

The next lecture will be held Feb. 11 and will cover occupational therapy and carpal tunnel.