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Stand up to healthy, happy feet

By Staff | Feb 8, 2018

BARB BARRETT/The Luminary Dr. Steven Hawley, foot and ankle specialist at UPMC Susquehanna spoke at the hospital's education and conference center last week on how to prevent foot pain and preventive steps to take for "healthy, happy feet."

WILLIAMSPORT – Despite inclement weather last Tuesday, a full audience filled the Williamsport Regional Medical Center’s education and conference center at 5:30 to hear Dr. Steven Hawley speak on ways to protect our feet from injury, illness or foot pain.

“There are so many issues with foot pain,” he said. The human foot has 28 bones, more than 100 tendons, muscles and ligaments and 33 joints. Also there are 250,000 sweat glands in one pair of feet causing us to release a half pint of moisture each day.

Dr. Hawley works with ankle pathology, sprains, twists and fractures, all of which can complicate our feet. “The foot is very complex,” he added, “and a lot of things can go wrong.”

The biggest change in foot care is diagnosed when someone has diabetes or loss of nerve endings. It is important to monitor your feet every day according to the doctor. Early detection prevents more serious problems from developing.

Foot exercises for arch support and muscle strengthening are important as he demonstrated picking up a towel by curling your toes or picking up a marble. Another good exercise is to stand over a step with the heel facing down and stretching it back and forth.

Another personal tip he gave was to trim toe nails straight across and to make sure shoes always fit properly. Often women have more problems from wearing ill-fitting shoes or very large heels. He suggested using the Brannock device for measuring exact foot size. “Due to painful footwear, women have four times more problems than men,” he said.

The skin under the foot is thinner with less of a fat pad on our soles. Watch your walking patterns and keep the joints flexible, advised Dr. Hawley. The stride length can change as we age and some may require a lift in their shoe to provide better balance. “The soles have more sensory nerve endings per square centimeter than any other part of the body,” Dr. Hawley explained. “Most of our sensitivity is in that area.”

There are so many conditions that can develop with our feet over the years. Some of these are bunions, hammer toes, plantar fasciitis, athlete’s foot, arthritis, achilles tendon, ankle instability and neuroma. “Sometimes muscle imbalances can shift the bones and surgery might be required for pain relief.”

Lifts and spacers can help improve pain and prevent long term issues according to Dr. Hawley. Watch for inflammation, usually at the heel or usually on the inside of the heel. This can be treated with ice and/or physical therapy and seldom requires surgical procedures. “Stretching is best, especially for plantar fasciitis.”

Sometimes stress fractures can occur from those who are on their feet for long periods of time. “Treatment for this is immobilization,” he explained.

Foot cramping comes from a mineral deficiency and Vitamin D, calcium and magnesium can help this problem. Athletes foot and fungus infections are more common and treatments for this can be topical, although some oral antifungal medication is not good for the liver. A damaged toe nail will take nine months to re-grow. Arthritis and ankle joint pain can be caused by trauma. Heel spurs are a result of calcification and foot exercises will help this condition. “Bone spurs don’t typically go away or get smaller, and heel lifts can be helpful to help mitigate the pain.”

Often our foot structure is inherited from family. “If you want to enjoy life to the fullest, do not ignore your feet,” he concluded following a question and answer period.