Few things are greater levellers than a pair of feet. According to podiatrist Margaret Dabbs, the ‘Queen of Feet’, many women feel self-conscious about their feet, insecurity made worse by the current trend for sandals and open-toed shoes. “They try to hide their feet away; they don’t realise there are always ways to improve the situation through treatment and exercise,” she says.
Our feet end up being a neglected part of our body, but we should all be giving them more attention, Dabbs maintains. Evidence suggests that, in some cases, Covid-19 presents itself on the feet; GPs are allegedly overrun with concerns about ‘Covid toe’, red blotches and lesions on the toes and feet, thought to be another side effect of the virus. “The rash seems to resemble pernio erythema or chilblains and is presumably related to change in body temperature,” Dabbs says. “Viral conditions often affect the extremities, and that can include toes.”
Our isolated lifestyle is also playing havoc with our feet. With gyms closed and daily commutes cancelled, we are more static than usual, leaving us at risk of painful conditions such as plantar fasciitis, which can stem from inactivity, Dabbs says. Others have been haring off on the Run for Heroes 5k challenge with precious little training. According to Dabbs, extreme exercise without giving any thought to our feet can result in thickened skin, flattened arches, stress fractures and Achilles tendonitis.
The easiest way to start noticing our feet is to strip off our shoes and socks, says postural alignment therapist Ellie Burt (posture-ellie.com), and walk around on them. “It’s no good working out our bodies without thinking about our feet,” she says. “The foot muscles might be tiny but they are crucial to a fully functioning, pain-free body; some muscles start at the foot and span all the way up behind the knee.”
This enforced rest from heeled work shoes is an ideal opportunity to give our feet a chance to recover and wake up, she continues. Heels and indeed any shoes, including trainers, that tilt our ankles downwards, throw off the biomechanics of the entire body, and load our feet unnaturally, causing problems in joints further up the body.
Don’t be tempted to ditch your trainers entirely, though, warns Dabbs. If you’re a perpetual heel wearer like the Duchess, you should gradually build up the time you spend barefoot or risk ending up with Achilles tendonitis. It’s also a good idea to introduce some barefoot exercises; for those with flat feet, Dabbs’s son James, a personal trainer who runs online fitness classes to strengthen the foot and the rest of the body (dabbsfitness.com), suggests introducing exercises that work on raising, strengthening and lengthening the arches – stair arch raises, calf raises, arch lifts and tennis ball rolls. Pregnancy, ageing, footwear, gait and genetics can all contribute to flat feet, he says, but with regular exercise, you can strengthen your arches and reduce pain in other joints.
Bunions are harder to correct naturally, although not impossible, says Margaret Dabbs. If your foot is wedged into a triangle, this is what happens, says Burt – although bunions are also caused by genetics, poor gait and biomechanical issues. “If the hip doesn’t fire properly, the weight of the body feeds down the midline of the leg, then the stiff ankle/shoe prevents the foot landing straight on the floor, so it turns out to the side,” she explains. “The weight of the body then cascades through the foot into the big toe joint, and the person “cigarette twists” off the big toe joint, causing it to turn away from the midline of the body and, after time, bunions form.”
To straighten out the bumps, James Dabbs suggests working on hip mobility and core stability, which evidence suggests can help improve alignment, and performing daily calf raises: extend the ankle and push through the balls of your feet, raising your heel until you are on your toes, making special effort to push through the big toe. Then lower slowly back to the start. Perform these with both a straight and a bent knee to work different muscle groups, he says.
“And introduce shorter, more sprint-based intervals into your running to increase the range of motion in your hip,” he says.
It takes time to improve the appearance of your feet; fine for those of us in lockdown.
According to the NHS, bunion surgery requires putting your feet up for two weeks after the operation, no driving for up to two months and no sport for up to six months. “Your feet might still be slightly wide, so you’ll probably have to keep wearing wide, comfy shoes,” says the NHS Direct website, adding, grimly, that even after all this, bunions sometimes come back.
There is a case, therefore, for loving the feet you’re in, says Margaret Dabbs, and looking after them. It’s not just women who hate their feet; men and young people are also foot phobes. “Younger people have larger feet these days and this can be a source of embarrassment,” she says. “But bigger feet can be stronger feet, so they really shouldn’t feel that way.”
Dabbs recommends regular exfoliation using a foot file to remove build-up and then a formulated foot moisturiser to hydrate dry, broken skin. “And remember to do your exercises.”
For if you don’t keep your feet moving, they’ll always be your Achilles’ heel.
What is Covid toe?
‘Covid toe’ is blisters or raised purple lesions on feet (and sometimes fingers), resembling chickenpox, chill blains or small bruises.
They could be caused by inflammation, temperature fluctuations or micro-blood clots. Scientists are still unsure.
The lesions are mainly seen in young people and children who are not displaying any other symptoms and are often the sign of a good immune response.
They usually disappear in the course of a week to 10 days, but sometimes sufferers progress to develop respiratory symptoms, meaning the marks can also be an early indicator of the virus.
If you suspect you are suffering from Covid toe, contact a doctor.
The Daily Telegraph