Three weeks ago, I had my third bunion surgery. Yes, even though I only have two feet, but I have had three bunions.
I believe my nonstop love for teaching fitness, now into my 36th year straight, mixed in with my genetics, haven’t helped this issue.
I have really taken no breaks from teaching classes over these years, except for a few weeks each to have three kids and a few orthopedic-type surgeries. Most instructors teach as a hobby and then go get real jobs. Imagine that! But this job is my real job.
My recent surgery was a bunionectomy (which gets rid of the bone that gets abnormally big on the side of the big toe, which in turn causes your big toe to turn inward) and an osteotomy (which is the surgical cutting or reshaping of the bone, in this case my big toe).
Foot issues are the worst. Your feet are your body’s foundation, so knowing what to do if you have foot issues is key to foot health. If you are over 50 and are exercising regularly, then you probably have experienced one or more of common foot issues. In runners, these issues can be very common.
I asked my doctor what he considered the most common foot issues facing middle-agers. He listed a few (but not bunions). I have experienced several of these painful problems at some point, and you may have, too.
The common foot issues that he sees are achilles tendinitis (pain on the back of the heel), plantar fasciitis (pain under the heel and foot), and metatarsalgia (pain beneath the ball of foot).
For these issues, there are many things you can do to treat the pain and hopefully improve the problem.
For achilles tendonitis, he recommends calf stretching, icing the area and rest from any impact activities. If needed, take over-the-counter anti-inflammatory meds for pain relief. Wearing a slight lift in the heel may help.
I have had achilles tendonitis in the past, and it presented itself as a good-sized knot on my achilles tendon. Flat-footed people can see this issue more. Also, that tendon can rupture, which is not good. Surgery usually follows, and I have heard it is very painful.
Plantar fasciitis is pain on the bottom of the heel and foot. It can really be bad first thing in the morning. According to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, it is the most common cause of heel pain.
According to my doctor, treatment for Plantar fasciitis is like treatment for achilles tendinitis. It may also include a custom orthotic insert with arch support and a cushioned heel.
I was introduced to custom orthotics 25 years ago. I COULD NOT teach without them. They can be very expensive — $300-$700 for a pair — but not being in pain is priceless! In my case, my insurance does not pay for them. An orthotic made just for you will set your feet in a neutral position, and that will carry up to your knees, hips and back. Fewer issues in those areas make orthotics a beautiful thing!
Another common foot problem is metatarsalgia, which causes forefoot pain beneath the ball of the foot. Treatment includes arch and toe stretching, wearing shoes with plenty of width in the forefoot, and custom orthotics that shift weight away from the metatarsal heads. My doctor also mentioned that over-the-counter meds can be taken for pain relief if needed.
All of these foot conditions can be exacerbated by excess weight, foot shape (high arch, flat feet, pronation or supination) or poorly fitted shoes (such as shoes with a small toe box like many high heels. Ladies, are you listening?)
If you have not experienced any of these foot problems and you are an avid exerciser over 50, then that is awesome! Genetics and luck are on your side.
In my case, bunion surgery is an elective surgery, and I could have waited a few years until it got even worse. But I look at it like this: I elected to stop the pain that I have been having for years. And I am glad that I had the surgery.
Are you facing a foot problem that is holding you back from doing what you love? Address this with your doctor to find a solution.
You can usually treat the problem with a little education about the cause; investing in the correct shoes; using store-bought shoe inserts or custom orthotics (I would try store-bought first because of the costs associated with custom); and over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs when needed.
Leonardo da Vinci said about the all-important foot: “The human foot is a masterpiece of engineering and a work of art.” Take care of your feet and they will take care of you.
Ann Angell is a certified instructor and personal trainer. She is fitness director for the YMCA of Calhoun County. Her fitness column appears the third Sunday of each month.