No matter where on your body you carry extra weight, your feet and ankles end up bearing the load, and those few more pounds cause your posture and gait to change, which also can affect your arches and tendons.
Due to gravity alone, your feet are under constant pressure in addition to the demanding bio-mechanical task of carrying you through your daily routine, so it’s not surprising that being overweight can lead to foot problems.
Your Weight and Feet: Understanding the Relationship
Research has found that having too much body weight may increase your chances of a variety of painful conditions in the feet, including:
- Tendon inflammation
- Inflammation in the plantar fascia, the tough band of tissue in the sole of your foot
You don’t have to be extremely obese to run into problems. “Even 25 extra pounds can tip the scales to more problems in the foot and ankle,” says James Mahoney, DPM, an associate professor of podiatric surgery at Des Moines University in Iowa.
And for people who are obese, the problems can multiply. Foot problems often develop from the changes in posture caused by carrying too much weight, says Dr. Mahoney. In these cases, the knees tend to come closer together while walking, which shifts the body weight to the insides of the feet. This can be bad for the arches and tendons in the feet and ankle, and lead to hip and back problems.
Your Weight and Feet: Specific Problems
Being overweight makes you more likely to develop several conditions that can lead to foot pain and other problems, such as:
- Gout. This condition is known for causing sharp, severe pain, typically in the big toe. It can also affect other joints in your feet and ankles. Gout develops when crystals of a substance called uric acid accumulate in your joints.
- Diabetes. Being overweight is one of the main factors that raise your risk of diabetes. Diabetes can cause numbness in your feet and can reduce the amount of blood flow that reaches your feet. As a result, you may develop small injuries without noticing them, and these injuries may heal very slowly and develop infections. These can grow into serious problems that can even lead to the loss of your feet.
- Peripheral arterial disease. This condition is marked by an accumulation of plaque in the walls of arteries in the legs. As a result, the flow of blood to the feet is reduced.
Your Weight and Feet: How to Get Moving
One problem that arises for people who have weight-related foot conditions is how to get the physical activity that helps in weight loss without causing foot injuries, Mahoney says. If you’re overweight and have concerns about hurting your feet, he recommends starting with low-impact aerobic activities, such as water aerobics.
In addition to working with your doctor to make sure your heart and lungs can handle the challenge from a new exercise program, talk to a podiatrist to make sure your shoes are the right size and offer the proper support. Be sure to start exercising gradually, and avoid activities that cause pain.
Weight gain due to pregnancy is hopefully a temporary condition, however many changes occur to the body and, as a result, women who are pregnant are more likely to be affected by certain foot conditions.
The most common foot-related symptom reported during pregnancy is foot pain, which usually results from flattening of the feet. The characteristics of the pain can vary widely, from a dull ache to a sharp or throbbing pain.
This occurs because the body weight of a woman increases significantly during pregnancy and it is distributed around the body differently to other weight gain. Specifically, the arch of the foot can flatten out and the feet roll inwards when walking, referred to as over-pronation. This can cause movement to become very painful and place additional strain on the feet, calves and back. Changes to the relaxin hormone during pregnancy are also thought to be associated with causing these effects.
To reduce the over-protonation and resulting pain, it is important for pregnant women to wear appropriate footwear that supports the arch of the foot. Orthotics that are designed to correct flattening of the feet can also be helpful in some cases.
Swelling of the feet, also known as edema, usually presents in the second or third trimester of the pregnancy. This occurs as a result of the increased blood volume and blood pressure, which leads to water retention and swelling in the legs and feet.
To reduce the swelling, it is important to keep moving regularly to move the circulation of blood and stop the fluid from pooling in the legs and feet. Taking short breaks to walk around during long periods of sitting can be helpful, in addition to raising the feet on a stool when sitting. Staying hydrated and reducing salt intake can also aid in reducing blood volume and reducing edema.
INGROWN TOE NAILS
Ingrown toenails are more common in pregnant women, due to the changes in the size, shape and positioning of the foot. The nail is more likely to be pushed into the surrounding skin with tight-fitting shoes or socks, and it can be difficult to trim the toes correctly without help.
Regular salt-water baths can help to relieve the pain and the softened skin can gently pushed back and away from the nail to improve the condition.
HOT OR BURNING SENSATIONS
Some women who are pregnant also experience hot or burning sensations in their feet, which result from hormonal changes that cause an increase in body temperature. These sensations can be heightened when the woman is fatigued and, in some cases, may inhibit sleep.
Cracked heels are also a common complaint, which is caused by changes in weight and posture associated with pregnancy. The heels tend to expand, leading to cracks if the skin becomes too dry.
MANAGEMENT OF FOOT CONDITIONS
There are a number of treatment techniques that can help to reduce the symptoms associated with foot conditions in pregnancy. These include:
- Elevating the feet
- Wearing appropriate footwear
- Wear seamless socks that do not constrict circulation
- Take regular breaks to stretch legs during long periods of sitting
- Keep physically active with low-intensity exercise such as walking
- Stay hydrated by drinking water
- Avoid foods high is salt
Over-pronation of the feet can be managed by opting for appropriate footwear and the use of orthotics. Shoes should be comfortable with extra support and shock absorption, and orthotics can give additional support to the arch and heel of the foot to correct the positioning. A podiatrist can help in the process to examine the foot positioning and make recommendations as to the most appropriate orthotic for the situation.