What to Look for in Supportive Winter Footwear

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 Supportive winter footwear is one of the most important foot health investments you can make as a resident of West Michigan. In our last blog post, we mentioned that inadequate gear, footwear that doesn’t fit correctly, and wet feet are three of the leading causes of winter foot injuries and conditions.

Choosing the right gear – socks, shoes, boots, and activity-specific gear – will help you enjoy winter for as long as it decides to last this season.

 Choosing the Right Winter Socks
Overall, the key thing to remember about good winter socks is to choose moisture-absorbing pairs that fit. Below are several aspects to consider when picking out a new pair of socks. If you’re unsure what type of sock is best for you, come visit one of our West Michigan offices, where we offer an extensive selection of season-appropriate socks.

Sock Material
Feet that are damp from sweat or from water soaking through your shoes chill more easily and are more prone to bacterial and fungal infections. This is why it’s so important to choose socks made with moisture-absorbing materials.

Avoid cotton.
Cotton socks and undergarments hold sweat against the skin. The sock worn closest to your skin should be made with wool or synthetic materials like polypropylene. These materials wick away sweat and offer great insulation. For extra warmth, wear liner socks, which are made of a thin synthetic material, under a pair of thicker wool socks. Examples of sock materials designed for cold weather include Coolmax®, Smartwool®, and Dacron®.

Sock Fit & Other Considerations
The fit of socks is essential, and you may find you get extra support from foot powder and foot warmers. Socks must fit properly to provide support. Socks that are too small may force toes to bunch together, causing friction that could lead to blisters or corns. Loose socks allow for heat loss; they may also cause friction if the extra material folds or bunches.

 Wear full-length socks rather than ankle-length. The taller the socks, the more insulation they will provide.

You may find that using foot powder inside your socks helps keep your feet clean and dry.

 Exercise caution with foot warmers. It’s best to consult with us first. Foot warmers can provide an added layer of protection when worn inside shoes; they can also cause severe harm for those with nerve damage and can burn the skin if worn incorrectly.

 Choosing the Right Winter Shoes and Boots
In general, proper winter shoes or boots should keep your feet warm, dry, and well supported.

·  Choose water-resistant and insulated shoes that are designed for cold weather.

·  The thicker the insulation, the more protection the shoes or boots provide.

·  Similarly, thicker soles offer more protection from the cold. More heat is lost through the sole due to conduction from the cold surface below than to the cold air around your feet due to convection. Consider adding a thicker insole to your boots for additional warmth.

·  Prevent slipping by wearing shoes or boots with low heels and traction soles.

Tips for Choosing Shoes that Fit

·  Shop for new shoes later in the day, when feet are at their largest.

·  Try on winter shoes with your winter socks. Make sure the thickness of the socks doesn’t make the shoes too tight and that you can still wiggle your toes. Size up if needed.

·  However, don’t buy shoes that need to be grown into. Shoes and boots need to fit today to prevent blisters, chafing, and injuries.

·  Replace worn shoes. 

Choosing the Right Footwear for Winter Activities

·  Different winter activities require different types of footwear and other considerations. Use boots designed specifically for skiing and snowboarding. It’s particularly important to ensure that they fit correctly.

·  You can use orthotics in boots and ice skates for additional support.

·  Remove wet socks and shoes right away. Pack an extra set if you think your feet may get wet.

·  Consider wearing gaiters over your boots to keep your feet dry. If snow piles up on top of your boots, your feet are likely to get wet – even if they’re great boots!

·  Runners needn’t hang up their shoes during the winter months. Warm, lightweight, moisture-wicking socks are available at most running and sporting goods stores. [Note: Consider shortening your stride to maintain stability in slippery conditions. Read our blog post about preventing foot and ankle injuries while running for more tips.

·  Don’t wear your winter socks and boots while indoors or driving to your hiking/skiing/activity destination. Your feet will sweat and get wet. Instead, put your winter socks and boots on just before stepping outside.

·  If your feet begin to feel cold, get moving! Movement increases blood flow to your extremities.

Winter activities are special – and so are winter conditions. Make a mental effort to check in frequently with how your ankles, feet, and toes are feeling while you’re out in the cold.

We’re happy to discuss your particular needs to help you feel prepared for winter activities this season and beyond. Contact us today to schedule an appointment.

Check back for winter skincare tips that will help you extend your foot health even further during the colder months.

Maintaining Healthy Feet During Cold Seasons

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You may be tempted to forget about caring for your feet now that they’re covered in socks 24/7 and the season of pedicures is behind you. Make no mistake: foot care during the colder months is pivotal to staying well and enjoying winter to the fullest. That’s why we’ve compiled this list of tips for maintaining healthy feet in the cold.

 Oh the Weather Outside Is Frightful… No matter the weather, we don’t recommend sitting inside by the fire all winter. In fact, inactivity can slow down your circulation and cause blood to pool in the feet, leading to issues like swollen ankles. However, getting out in the winter does pose some unique threats to foot health.

 Common causes of foot health issues in the winter include the following:

·  Inadequate gear. Wearing sandals in the snow isn’t only uncomfortable and a bit silly looking – it puts you at risk for chilblains (inflammatory red patches that may swell up), frostbite, and injury.

·  Footwear that is too tight or loose. Shoes or socks that are too tight will decrease blood flow to the feet. Loose gear allows for heat loss and wind exposure.

·  Excess sweat or wetness. Even proper winter footwear can cause feet to sweat from activity. And the ground is frequently wet from rain, snow, and melting snow and ice during the winter. Leaving feet wet for a long period can cause fungal and bacterial infections. It can also exacerbate skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis.

·  Falls that lead to foot or ankle injuries. Winter falls could be due to wearing high heels or shoes with poor tread on ice, or just from slipping. They can lead to ankle sprains or broken bones.

 The following circumstances require you to take extra care of your feet in cold weather:

·  You have poor circulation, due to cardiovascular disease, diabetes, or other causes. Foot care is especially important for those with diabetes; about 20 percent of individuals with diabetes suffer from ulcers and infections in the feet that put them in the hospital.

·  You have nerve damage from diabetic neuropathy or other causes. Note that qualifying diabetics should get their toenails cut by a foot specialist, and others can consider coming to the Medical Nail Spa.

·  You suffer from Raynaud’s phenomenon, a disorder characterized by decreased blood flow, usually in the toes, fingers, ears, and/or tip of the nose.

·  You are a smoker or have been drinking alcohol. Nicotine alters circulation and blood flow to the feet, and alcohol dilates blood vessels, increasing heat loss throughout the body.

·  You have poor nutritional status, which affects your body’s ability to regulate temperature. Issues with nutritional status include dehydration, hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), and low body mass index (BMI).

 It’s good to be aware of the pitfalls of winter weather, but, again, it’s no reason to avoid the outdoors for the next few months. There’s nothing quite like gliding across the ice on skates, using snowshoes to walk on feet of snow in a quiet forest or flying down a ski hill with the brisk wind in your face.

 With simple, regular at-home foot care, you can enjoy the colder months to the fullest.

 Winter Foot Care Tips

These healthy foot maintenance tips are straightforward and will keep you active all winter long. Attending to them will also pay dividends when the snow melts – or when you pack your sandals for an upcoming trip to the beach.

·  Inspect your feet regularly, paying close attention to color changes, foot temperature, and changes in the toenails, as well as cracks, cuts, peeling, scaling, or any growths. 

·  Wash your feet daily, being sure to wash and dry thoroughly between your toes. 

·  Use a pumice stone or foot scrub to smooth out natural calluses and dry skin, which are often worse in the winter due to dry heat. Be careful not to overdo it as scrubbing too hard or too often may irritate your skin.

·  Toenails should be trimmed straight across... but not too short!

·  Clean beneath your toenails.

·  Note that diabetics should get their toenails cut by a foot specialist. 

·  Moisturize your feet, but not in between the toes.

·  Give yourself a foot bath with Epsom salts and indulge in a foot mask afterward.

 When the Tips Weren’t Enough…

Even with the best of intentions and care, foot and ankle conditions and injuries may still occur. If your feet have been exposed to cold and dampness for a prolonged period, avoid hot water or direct heat. Instead soak your feet in warm water, which allows them to return to their normal temperature gradually.

 We can treat sprains or suspected fractures caused by falls or sports-related injuries. If you believe you may have an injury, contact us right away or visit the emergency room for prompt diagnosis and treatment.

 Finally, if you notice anything out-of-the-ordinary during your regular foot inspections, give us a call to set up an appointment. We have offices located throughout West Michigan; no matter where you are, we aren’t far.

 Check back for our next blog post with tips for choosing supportive winter footwear and the following post with skincare tips for your feet.

What to Know About Orthotics

Patrick Meyer, DPM

If you are experiencing foot pain, it could be attributed to one of a variety of sources. If you work in manufacturing, healthcare, or education, your foot pain (or knee, hip, or back pain) may be caused by standing on your feet all day. Foot pain, no matter the source, is not normal. We are trained to help alleviate foot pain – and it may be a simple fix.

What Are Orthotics?

Formally, orthotics is the branch of mechanical and medical science that deals with the design and fitting of devices that support and brace weak or ineffective joints or muscles. The word orthotics can also be used to refer to the devices themselves, as we do at The Foot and Ankle Specialists of West Michigan. 

How Are Custom Orthotics Different From Store-Bought Inserts?

You’re probably familiar with off-the-shelf shoe inserts. You may have even tried them.  Prepackaged shoe inserts often don’t alleviate pain or help correct foot concerns because we all have different feet. They’re generic – and your feet, like you, are unique!

Most over-the-counter inserts are made for specific shoe size or a wide range of shoe sizes (e.g., women’s size 6–10) and can be cut to fit. However, shoe size isn’t everything. Store-bought inserts don’t take into account your biomechanics, physiology, and unique needs.

If you have heard of custom orthotics, you may be picturing one of the following:

·       An orthopedic device that helps prevent or correct a foot deformity.
·       An appliance that helps reduce a senior’s risk of falling.
·       A shoe insert that realigns the leg and relieves knee pain from osteoarthritis.

Custom-fitted orthotics do come in these forms and help with these issues – but they’re more versatile than you might think.

Who Can Benefit from Custom Orthotics?

Custom orthotics are incredibly versatile. They can be used to address a variety of foot pain, on patients of all ages, and to correct all sorts of issues.

Here are just some of the types of people who can benefit from custom orthotics based on their lifestyle:

·       Those that are on their feet all day. Everyone who works most of their day in a standing position – from manufacturing supervisors to healthcare workers to teachers – may benefit from custom orthotics.

·       Athletes. You don’t have to be a pro to have a sports-related injury or to feel foot pain. Those who run, dance, play basketball or tennis – pretty much any sport except swimming – and who enjoy any type of workout could benefit from custom-made orthotics.

·       Those that wear high heels often. Kristen Bell and Scarlet Johansson are just two of the many celebrities who wear orthotics to compensate for the discomfort of super-high heeled shoes.

·       Those living with diabetes. Pressure areas around the feet that create ulcers or wounds are a major complication in the health and well-being of people living with diabetes. Custom orthotics and proper shoe gear are essential in helping to eliminate or manage these conditions.

What Issues Do Custom Orthotics Correct?

In addition to those with general lifestyle needs for orthotics listed above, custom-fitted orthotics can help many different foot issues, including the following:

·       Heel pain
·       Bunions
·       Corns and calluses
·       Flat feet
·       High arches
·       In- and out-toeing
·       Hammertoe and claw toe
·       Forefoot pain
·       Neuropathic ulcerations

 Many foot problems arise from biomechanical issues caused by muscle weakness, joint problems, or poor shoe choices. These issues put extra strain on the feet as well as higher up in the body because your feet are the base of your entire skeleton. Because of this, custom orthotics may also help alleviate issues with other parts of your body, including your shins, knees, hips, and lower back.

 What’s the Process for Getting Custom Orthotics?

Have you been thinking about your own feet while reading this article? It’s true that custom orthotics may be the simple fix you need to alleviate foot pain – and our team of knowledgeable doctors are experts in prescription orthotic devices. In fact, we create more than 1,000 of them each year. We seek to treat patients conservatively first and frequently provide individualized treatment plans using the versatility of custom orthotics prescription.

 Getting fitted for custom orthotics is straightforward. We will listen to your needs and concerns, analyze your gait, lower body anatomy and biomechanics, and will measure your feet to determine what size and shape orthotic device will work best for you. This in-office process only takes about 15 minutes.

 Then, once we have a custom mold, the orthotics order is sent out to the lab to be created. Custom orthotics can be ready in as little as 4-6 week. And no matter where you are in West Michigan, our offices aren’t far.

 Contact us today to schedule an appointment.

How to Prevent Common Foot and Ankle Exercise Injuries: Running

By Michael David, DPM

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With the crisp air and beautiful colors, it’s no secret that autumn is a great time of year for running outside. But, if you’re not careful, fall is also a season that’s conducive to running injuries. We want you to stay healthy and continue to love what you do, so here are some tips for preventing common foot and ankle injuries this season—and beyond.    

1.     Never forget to warm up

Going from sitting all day (or sleeping all night) straight to running can force your body to try to keep up and will exhaust you faster. Before heading out for a run, make sure you warm up. Start with some movement, like walking, jogging slowly, or doing dynamic stretches, such as leg swings and torso twists. This will help your body ease into your workout and adjust from an inactive to an active state. Note that, as the temperatures drop, your body may need more time to warm up than it did in the summer.

A common mistake is to do static stretches, like hamstring and quadriceps stretches, before running. Stretching muscles that aren’t warmed up can strain them. Instead, do static stretches after jogging to loosen up and stay limber. Importantly, don’t force any stretches though bouncing motions, or you may end up pulling a muscle.

2.     Strengthen and condition

Avoid doing too much too soon. It’s important to condition your body one day at a time, especially if you’re a beginner. Know that conditioning is a gradual process and every solid workout will strengthen your body, allowing you to push a little harder the next time around. Being excessive can lead to sprains and stress fractures. Build a foundation slowly to improve balance, increase flexibility, and stabilize your joints.

3.     Wear the proper footwear

Running can be hard on your body. Having the right shoes is extremely important because they’re the only barrier between your feet and the hard ground. Proper shoes provide the right support for your unique feet. Before shopping for running shoes, contact a podiatrist to learn about the size and shape of your feet. They will help you understand your feet and ensure you have the best expert-fitted shoe available. Just one podiatric examination and shoe recommendation can significantly to reduce the risk of a running injury.

You should replace your shoes as their support wears out. How often you should replace your shoes depends on how often (and how far) you run; however, replacing running shoes around every six months is a good rule of thumb.

The proper shoes will provide the appropriate shock absorption your body needs for support. Exercising is a long-term investment in your health; we recommend viewing your shoes in the same way.

4.     Listen to your feet

If you ever feel pain while exercising, know that it’s crucial that you either slow down or stop entirely. You cannot “walk it off.” Continuing to run on the afflicted area will only elevate the pain and make the condition worse. When in pain, take a few days off and allow your body to recuperate. If the pain continues, make an appointment to see one of our highly trained physicians, and they will help you get back on your feet.

5.     Be extra attentive

Running outside presents an uncontrollable atmosphere. Whether the roads are slick or your favorite trail is comprised of rolling hills, it’s important to stay alert and watch where you step—especially as the days become shorter. Even running in neighborhoods can lead to a sprain from uneven sidewalks or slippery piles of fallen leaves. Running outside can be far more entertaining and refreshing than running on a treadmill, and we’d never discourage your commitment to personal health and an activity that you love. Just remember that you need to pay careful attention to your surroundings.

Running is a fantastic form of exercise that provides countless health benefits. By following these tips for preventing foot and ankle injuries, we hope that you will enjoy a healthy running habit this autumn and for many more to come. Contact the Foot & Ankle Specialists of West Michigan if you have any questions about preventing or treating common running injuries – we have six convenient locations throughout the region.