The foot is a marvelous piece of machinery – they allow us to travel by walking, jogging or running; we can dance on them, twist and turn on them, stretch them up to increase our reach and use them as swimming paddles. They also absorb shock with every step, and hold us steady as we stand. For such useful equipment, it’s surprising that many of us forget to care for them.

An estimated 75-80% of us will experience problematic feet at some stage, a fact which is supported by the College of Podiatry. This means our footwear must be chosen carefully, and adapted as our needs change. The choice of fashion over comfort, or the wrong size or shape in a shoe can quickly lead to painful conditions, as detailed by the National Posture Institute. Treated well, and they’ll carry you for the rest of your life.

So, let’s look at the incredible life of your feet.

A bare foot standing outside

Early life

The Australian Podiatry Association explains that it’s normal for babies to appear flat-footed, and that the arches will become more prominent as the child is learning to balance and pick up speed. While going barefoot in places where it is safe to do so (such as in the home or on soft sand) can give little feet a good workout, fitting shoes for other environments should be the correct size and give good support. Livestrong suggests you stand your toddler on a piece of blank paper and trace the foot with a pencil. You can then write down the measurement from heel to toe at the longest points to use as a starting point for sizes.

Take in a couple of pairs of socks that vary in thickness so that you can assess how they fit with the shoe. Toddlers often curl their toes, so have yours walk in the shoes to evaluate the comfort and fit. The foot should be firm against the back of the shoe to prevent friction, and a comfortable gap should be felt at the toe. A trained salesperson should be able to advise when you’ve ticked all of the boxes.

Always get a professional fitting for your little one’s first time. This will eliminate the chance of having ill-fitting shoes.

Childhood feet

An article citing Robert Roedl, head of the Department of Paediatric Orthopaedics at Germany’s Muenster University Hospital, estimated that around two-thirds of children are wearing the wrong sized shoe, with most being too small. Because children’s feet grow so quickly, the sizing will change around every season, but parents who buy annually needn’t be overly concerned – Roedl explains that with children’s shoes, unlike with adults or toddlers, a single size out won’t damage the foot.

If your child is particularly active, keep an eye out for worn-through soles and holey toes. This is a better indicator that a new pair is needed.

Pairs of shoes displayed on shelving

Women’s feet

Women get the rough end of the stick when it comes to choosing shoes. Fashion has given us the stiletto, the pointy toe, the open-backed flat and the skinny shoe. Almost always, these trends are forcing the foot to contort into an unnatural position. While these sorts of shoes are more commonly reserved for special occasions, many women still suffer to achieve a certain look.

Bloomberg has a great style guide for the office, and stresses that pinching, gripping, rubbing and a lack of arch support are no-nos. If you find a favourite shoe is slightly too large or lack arch support, a pair of soft inserts can make all the difference.

Women experience around four times as many foot problems as men. High heels have a lot to answer for! Balancing fashion with foot care is challenging, but not an impossible task. The right shoes will get you through the day without pain.

Trendy men's shoes

Men’s feet

Big toes and heel pain – these are the most common foot problems experienced by men, according to Men’s Health. The difficulty with men’s shoes, particularly formal ones, is that you usually get what you pay for. Often being heavier than women, men place extra strain on the sole of a shoe, quickly creating pressure points. Many times these are endured rather than corrected, creating lasting problems. Men’s feet need the same kind of care that female feet do, which means attending to growing toenails, and visiting a professional when problems arise.

Mature feet

Older feet

The ageing foot is often familiar with pain and discomfort, arising from long term ill-fitting shoes, bunions and corns, arthritis or an inflammatory ligament condition called plantar fasciitis. These conditions can be experienced earlier in the lifespan, but commonly present a little later in life.

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Elderly people need to pay extra attention to their feet in order to maintain good balance, remain pain-free and maximise foot circulation says, particularly because staying active as you age is so vital to overall health. It notes that it is more difficult for older people to cut toenails, tend to corns and bunions and to identify problems that need professional care and orthotics.

Looking after your feet

When to seek help

Everyone should see a podiatrist at some point in their lives, but it’s advisable not to wait if you are experiencing regular foot discomfort. Getting to a problem early can mean the difference between an acute and a chronic problem, and a podiatrist is best-placed offer solutions.

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If you have other health problems that can affect the feet, a regular check-up is extremely important. Diabetics, people with lymphedema, and those with circulation problems or bone malformations fit into this category. explains that athletes should also have annual check-ups – although feet are terrific shock-absorbers, regularly placing stress on the wrong areas of the feet can change their shape, structure and overall integrity.

Podiatry is often covered in your health insurance ancillary benefits. The right policy will offer rebates on consultations, which may prove extremely beneficial to anyone at risk of injury.


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