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Posts for: April, 2016

April 29, 2016
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As brightly colored leaves dazzle the fall landscape, hikers and hunters nationwide will migrate to mountains, woods and fields, but many, unfortunately, are ill prepared for the beating their feet will take, warns a local foot and ankle surgeon.

“Hikers, hunters and others who love the outdoors often don’t realize how strenuous it can be to withstand constant, vigorous walking on uneven terrain,” said Dr. Steven Gordon, a member of the American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons (ACFAS) located in Reston, Virginia. "Lax physical conditioning and inappropriate footwear bring scores of outdoor enthusiasts into our office each fall for treatment of foot and ankle problems such as chronic heel pain, ankle sprains, Achilles tendonitis, fungal infections and severe blisters."

“Walking up and down steep hillsides and tramping through wet, slippery fields and wooded areas puts stress on the muscles and tendons in the feet and ankles, especially if you haven’t conditioned properly before hitting the trail,” said Dr. Gordon. “Also, many don’t realize that cross-training athletic shoes aren’t the best choice for extended hiking and hunting. Had some of my patients worn sturdy, well-constructed hiking boots, they wouldn’t have suffered sprained ankles or strained Achilles tendons.”

Dr. Gordon advises hikers and hunters to make the investment in top-quality hiking boots. He said strong, well-insulated and moisture-proof boots with steel or graphite shanks offer excellent ankle and foot support that helps lessen stress and muscle fatigue to reduce injury risk. “The supportive shank decreases strain on the arch by allowing the boot to distribute impact as the foot moves forward. So if a boot bends in the middle, don’t buy it.”

In wet and cold weather, wearing the right socks can help prevent blisters, fungal infections and frostbite. Dr. Gordon recommends synthetic socks as the first layer to keep the feet dry and reduce blister-causing friction. For the second layer, wool socks add warmth, absorb moisture away from the skin, and help make the hiking boot more comfortable. “Wool lets moisture evaporate more readily than cotton, so fewer blisters develop,” he added.

What happens if your feet or ankles hurt during a hike or hunt? Dr. Gordon said pain usually occurs from overuse, even from just walking. “If you’re not accustomed to walking on sloped or uneven ground, your legs and feet will get tired and cause muscles and tendons to ache,” he explained. “To avoid a serious injury, such as a severe ankle sprain or an Achilles tendon rupture, rest for a while if you start hurting.”

According to the ACFAS consumer website, FootHealthFacts.org, pain is a warning sign that something is wrong. “Serious injury risk escalates significantly if you continue hiking in pain.” he likened hiking to skiing, in that beginners should take on less difficult trails until they become better conditioned and more confident.

Evaluation by a foot and ankle surgeon is recommended if there is persistent pain following a hiking or hunting outing. “I’m most concerned about ankle instability and strained Achilles tendons. Inattention to these problems at their early stages may lead to a serious injury that will keep you off the trails for a long time,” Dr. Gordon said.

Hikers and hunters seeking further information about ankle sprains, Achilles tendon injuries and other foot and ankle problems may contact Dr. Gordon at (703) 437-6333


Don't let sore feet trip up your travel plans

Whether you travel for business or pleasure, whether you fly, drive, or take a train, there’s one other mode of transportation you’ll almost certainly use on your trip: your feet. During the course of a regular day, the average person walks 8,000 to 10,000 steps, but that number can increase dramatically when you’re traveling. From inappropriate footwear to long stretches of inactivity in cramped cars or airplane seats, traveling can be hard on your feet.

“Exploring a new destination with family and friends, or getting to that important business meeting on time, should not involve having to struggle with foot pain,” says Steven Gordon, DPM, a podiatrist at Reston, Manassas, and Leesburg Foot and Ankle Center and member of the American Podiatric Medical Association (APMA). “By following basic foot care practices, travelers can help ensure foot pain doesn’t slow down their enjoyment of the journey.”

If you're planning a trip, the APMA recommends you take a few steps to ease the wear and tear on your foot muscles and joints:

  • Start out with the proper footwear. If you’re flying, shoes that slide on and off easily make sense, but don’t sacrifice health and safety for convenience. Choose footwear that is comfortable and supportive. Business travelers—especially women—may want to pack their dress shoes in their carry-on and wear comfortable footwear while traveling. If you’re driving, and don’t have to worry about speedy shoe removal, go with a comfortable, supportive athletic shoe that will allow your feet to breathe and provide ample cushioning.
  • Never go barefoot through airport security. While current security regulations require all travelers to remove their shoes, you’re not required to remove your socks unless a security officer asks you to. Keep your socks on to help protect your feet from dirt and bacteria.
  • If possible, get up and walk around every 45 minutes. Sitting for long periods of time restricts blood flow to the legs and feet, which can lead to swelling and, in extreme cases, blood clots. If walking around isn’t possible—if you're in a car for a couple of hours or stuck in your seat during a turbulent flight—exercise your legs, ankles, and feet while seated. Roll your ankles and point your toes up and down to encourage blood flow. If you have the room to do so, raise each knee and hold it for a few seconds while tensing your thigh muscles. If your feet begin to swell, unlace your shoes.
  • Even with the best precautions, vacation walking can create a foot emergency. Pack a foot care emergency kit that’s equipped with adhesive bandages, antibiotic cream, tweezers, and nail clippers. You can also include foot lotion for a soothing massage.
  • Finally, travel time is no time to try breaking in new shoes. In fact, new shoes should never have to be “broken in” before they feel comfortable. Shoes should be comfortable, without chafing or pinching, from the first time you put them on. If they are not, don’t buy them.

“Our research tells us that most Americans say they have foot pain at least some of the time,” Dr. Gordon says. “"When you're traveling, it’s no time to contend with foot pain. Travelers can protect their foot health by following simple precautions.”


Flip-flop fiascoes to sunburned toes: Tips for avoiding summer foot woes

Relaxing on the beach, hiking through the mountains, trekking around a new city, or just keeping up with all the kids’ summer activities—however you spend summer vacation, your feet will carry you through it all. During the course of these adventures, your feet may endure stubbed toes, miles of walking, hot sand, and possibly even some sunburn. So be kind to your tootsies, and take note of these tips for protecting your feet from summer heat.

Foot care on the road

You may be looking forward to a beach vacation or lounging by the pool at a luxury hotel. But even those fun activities can take a toll on your feet if you don’t practice proper safety.

“Even if you're just lying still on your back soaking up the sun’s rays, your feet are still vulnerable,” says Shaun Hafner, DPM, a podiatrist at Reston, Manassas, and Leesburg Foot and Ankle Center and member of the American Podiatric Medical Association (APMA). “You can seriously sunburn your feet. And no matter how upscale your hotel is, athlete’s foot can be present in all public pool areas.”

To help steer clear of foot problems, follow these tips:

  • Walk barefoot as little as possible. Going shoeless exposes your feet to sunburn, plantar warts, athlete’s foot, ringworm, and other infections, and increases the risk of injury. Wear shoes or flip-flops around the pool, to the beach, in locker rooms, and even inside your hotel room, as infection-causing bacteria can linger in carpets and on bathroom tiles.
  • Just as you rely on sunscreen and drinking plenty of water during the summer, these practices also help your feet. Apply sunscreen on your whole foot, especially the tops and fronts of ankles. Drink plenty of water throughout the day to help minimize foot swelling caused by the heat.
  • Always pack an extra pair of shoes, especially if you expect your feet will get wet.
  • Take along a foot-care kit that includes sterile bandages, antibiotic cream, an emollient-enriched cream, blister pads, and an anti-inflammatory pain-reliever.
  • Avoid a flip-flop fiasco. Ditching heavy boots and wearing lighter footwear is one of the great joys of summer. But be aware that not all types of footwear are good for your feet. Flip-flops, in particular, can cause problems.

“During warmer months, many podiatrists treat more foot problems, and they can often be traced back to the wearing of flip-flops,” Dr. Hafner says. “You don’t have to give up wearing flip-flops altogether; certain types offer a superior amount of stability and support than others.”

So, what's considered a bad flip-flop? Flip-flops with soles that bend and twist freely offer no support or stability. Choose flip-flops that bend only at the ball of the foot and that provide arch support, which cushions the foot and provides stability. High-quality soft leather for the thong part of the flip-flop will help you avoid blisters. Your toes or heels should never hang off the edge of the flip-flop. Throw away flip-flops that are old, worn, cracked, or frayed—no matter how much you loved them last season.

Finally, never wear flip-flops for doing yard work, playing sports, or taking long walks. Do wear good, supportive flip-flips at the pool, beach, or in public places. Your feet will take you to a lot of cool places this summer. Keeping them safe and comfortable can maximize the fun during your next warm-weather adventure.


Choosing summer footwear that looks and feels great

So long, snow boots—warm weather is here at last! But while you’re skipping through summer in your saucy sandals or padding through the sand in your favorite flip-flops, what toll will your seasonal footwear take on your hardworking feet? Nearly eight of every 10 Americans have experienced foot problems caused by wearing uncomfortable or ill-fitting shoes, according to the American Podiatric Medical Association (APMA).

“Many of us increase our activity levels in the summer, and that could mean an increased risk of foot and ankle discomfort or even injury,” says Dr. Shaun Hafner, DPM, a podiatrist at Reston, Manassas, and Leesburg Foot and Ankle Centers and APMA member. “Plus, many of the shoes we enjoy wearing during warm weather, like flip-flops and sandals, may not always be the best choice in terms of foot health.”

Once considered only beach wear, flip-flops have gone fashionable, now showing up in offices, classrooms, and social events when warm weather arrives. But some styles may be more harmful to your feet than others and can cause blisters and foot pain. Remember the following tips when shopping for flip-flops:

  • Forego vinyl or rubber and look for high-quality, soft leather, which will minimize the potential for blisters and other irritations. APMA certifies some footwear products with its Seal of Acceptance, which tells you a team of APMA podiatrists has evaluated the footwear to ensure it allows the most normal foot function and promotes foot health. View the list of products by visiting www.apma.org/seal.
  • Like all shoes, the flip-flop should bend at the ball of the foot. Don’t buy it if the flip-flop bends completely in half.
  • Straps should fit comfortably but not be too loose or too snug. Your foot should not hang off the edge of the flip-flop. The thong between the toes should not be irritating.
  • If last year’s flip-flops show severe signs of wear, toss them and buy a new pair.
  • Don’t wear flip-flops for long walks; even the sturdiest styles don’t offer sufficient arch support and shock absorption for extended wearing. And never wear them when doing yard work or playing sports.
  • “If you suffer from heel pain or diabetes, avoid flip-flops altogether,” says Dr. Hafner.

As popular as flip-flops, sandals are versatile options for warm weather footwear, but you don’t have to sacrifice foot health to look good in them. You should choose a sandal as much for its comfort and support as its fashion appeal. Fortunately, following a few simple steps can ensure your feet look and feel good in the summer’s hottest fashion sandals:

  • Flats and slides are comfy and convenient, but prolonged wearing and inadequate support and cushioning may lead to arch and heel pain. Use cushioned inserts to improve sandals’ support, and choose styles that have soles that don’t twist excessively.
  • Gladiator sandals are back in step this season, but some styles may irritate the toes and cause calluses on the heels. “Choose natural materials like soft, supple leather,” Dr. Hafner suggests.  Toes and heels should not hang off edges.
  • Platforms and high heels may make your legs look great, but they can also put you at risk of foot and ankle injuries. Opt for heels less than two inches high, which offer more stability.
  • Rubber soles with good traction are a must for anyone wearing wedges or espadrilles.
  • Peep-toe sandals can put a lot of pressure on your feet, causing bunions and hammertoes over time. Wear them for short periods only, and use toe inserts to improve comfort.
  • Ankle-wrap sandals often lack true ankle support, and friction from the straps may cause blisters. Choose sandals with straps made of soft, breathable material like leather, cotton, or satin. Never wrap the straps too tightly.

If you experience persistent foot pain, see a podiatrist. Feet shouldn’t hurt all the time, and if they do, it may indicate injury, irritation, or illness.