Taking Care of Feet During Festive Shopping

It’s that time of year again; December has made an appearance and has brought with it the Christmas shopping season. This means an abundance of festivities, but also mad dashes to purchase unique, thoughtful gifts—and enduring the long lines that accompany holiday shopping. With all the hustle and bustle it’s easy to forget to treat ourselves—not to gifts or sweets—but to maintaining good foot and leg health as we pound the pavement and spend hours on concrete floors while running laps in malls and running from shop to shop.

Most people are simply too distracted and under too much stress to consider this aspect of self-care over the holidays. This is unfortunate, as a little knowledge goes a long way in reducing discomfort during this time of year. For instance, most people don’t realize how complicated the foot truly is: there are a total of 206 bones in the human body, and 26 of those bones, along with 33 joints, 107 ligaments, and 19 muscles/tendons are found in the feet alone. That means that one quarter of all the bones in our body are located in our feet. There are a lot of complicated movements going on in a small amount of space and “shop ‘till you drop” during Christmas and New Year’s can take on a rather more literal meaning if this machinery is overused and gives way.

Living in colder climates can add increased issues if you are standing in line or manoeuvring through cold, snowy weather. This can often lead to emotional distress as well as physical discomfort, such as when the feet get cold, damp, and numb, all of which is extremely uncomfortable or downright painful. And it isn’t over when the day is done and boots and socks are removed as this often the time when fatigue of the legs and feet sets in and arches and muscles begin to ache and throb. Unfortunately, some people will also experience cramping of related muscles. Excessive amounts of time spent standing and walking can lead the arches in the feet to collapse and become flattened, and if proper footwear with adequate support has not been worn it can lead to a host of problems. Improper footwear lacking in support often leads to foot, leg, and back problems and pain, none of which increase our holiday spirit. Physical discomfort can, and often does, take the joy out of holiday shopping.

Knowing your foot type will help immensely in choosing the style of shoe that will reduce your levels of pain even while spending great amounts of time on your feet. For instance, having a flat foot means choosing a different type of shoe than someone with a high arch would require and it will dictate how comfortable any type of footwear will be for you over the long term. Flat feet often cause painful muscle spasms in the arch and leg when shoes lacking in support are worn, such as ballet flats or dress shoes without proper internal structure. High arches, on the other hand, can cause pain and a burning sensation to occur in the ball of the foot that can become especially pronounced when wearing heels or wedges. In this instance the pitch (slope) of the heel or wedge forces the ball of the feet toward the ground, and because these shoes typically lack adequate padding of the toe box this pressure is not is not properly absorbed and is forced back onto the foot.

These types of complications as well as pain caused by wearing improper footwear can be compounded when structural bone issues such as hammer toes, heel spurs, and bunions are present. All of these issues can also be aggravated by wearing the wrong type of shoe for your foot. Other common foot complaints, particularly during the Christmas holidays, include blisters and corns, which often develop from the wearing of shoes that are too tight and too narrow, especially if the shoes are frequently worn for long periods of time. It’s not exaggerating to say that shopping all day can be a serious health hazard for your feet!

Now for some good news—there are a few simple steps you can take to prevent foot pain and shoe problems from ruining your holiday shopping experience as you run from place to place during Christmas and New Years. First and foremost you should plan your shoe ‘wardrobe’ before you start your holiday shopping. If you plan to shop immediately after work tuck a pair of comfortable shoes into your bag. Depending on your location, tennis shoes, comfortable boots, or well cushioned flats are all appropriate. Make sure your feet will remain both warm and dry over the course of your experience. If you plan on wearing heels or flats make sure you have a soft, high quality insole liner in those shoes so the impact of walking and standing for long periods of time will be reduced.

If you aren’t confident in the structure or support of the shoes you already own there are many ways to affordably ‘upgrade’ your footwear and reduce the stress on your legs and feet. Adequate support can be had through the purchase of easy-to-use arch support products that slip into your shoe and provide instant arch support and pain relief while also reducing the amount of pressure placed on the ball of the foot. If you are shopping in a warm weather climate that allows for the wearing of open toed shoes, backless shoes, and sandals don’t worry—there are several arch support products available for this type of footwear as well.

Choosing the right product can be confusing but one easy way to narrow down your decision is to consider the design of the product, as over the counter arch support products can be bulky and take up too much room.  When this occurs the shoe no longer fits properly and can become quite uncomfortable. Be sure to choose a design that suits both your foot and the type of footwear you’re planning on wearing.

And finally, I like to encourage patients to remove their outdoor footwear immediately upon arriving home after a long day of shopping. Leave a comfortable pair of shoes or slippers beside the door so you can make the switch immediately upon entry. I also recommend soaking your feet in warm water, taking care not to make it too hot if the skin on your feet is chilly. Massaging a moisturizing cream into tired feet is a great way to relax the muscles, rejuvenate the skin, and encourage blood flow in a much deserving part of the body. If you can literally put your feet up for a while after shopping this too can help reduce inflammation and discomfort.

Taking a few easy steps means that you can walk happily ever after this holiday shopping season!



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