Tending to Your Soles

March 1, 2016

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WHEN SIDEWALKS ARE SLICK, leave those pumps and flats at home and saddle up in sturdier shoes.

Women need to balance foot fashion with whole health, especially in wintertime. A foot has 26 bones, 33 joints and more than a hundred muscles, tendons and ligaments. That’s a lot of moving parts.

Dr. Eliezer Trybuch, a podiatrist with a longtime practice on Capitol Hill, sees a clear increase in ankle injuries among women wearing high heels and other dressy shoes through snow and ice.

“You want to wear a flatter shoe and a shoe that’s warm,” Trybuch explained, “a shoe that’s comfortable with no pinching. Women tend to wear something that’s more stylish but not good anatomically, such as high shoes and pump shoes with wedges or something pointy. The curve of the foot is not a point.”

That means no ballet shoes or high heels when temperatures hover near freezing.

“Walking around in a high heel or narrow shoe is not the best type of shoe for everyday use,” Trybuch emphasized. “Reserve those shoes for a special meeting or a wedding or a party, but women should not walk around in those shoes.”

If directing a meeting in shearling doesn’t appeal, keep a pair of something jazzier in a drawer at the office.

For people who work out in the weather, boots are a no-brainer. Pearl Wetherall, field manager at New Morning Farm in Hustontown, Penn., says the trick is finding the right boots.

“I like boots with removable wool liners,” said Wetherall, taking a break from Sunday’s rush at Dupont Circle’s FreshFarm Market. She wears through several pair of rubber boots a year. New Morning Farm encompasses 40 acres. “I’m walking everywhere all the time.”

After a day checking crops, Wetherall treats her feet to warm socks when she comes inside. “I should get some slippers,” she mused. Regretting that her house doesn’t have a bathtub— ”that would be nice” — Wetherall shared a few tips.

“Out of the shower, I’ll put lotion on my feet. I use Everyday Shea. It’s fragrance-free. I find oil-based stuff — coconut oil, olive oil — doesn’t really moisturize. It provides a protective barrier but doesn’t add the moisture I need. That’s why I went back to lotion.”

Trybuch agreed. “Do not use Vaseline or baby oil or Crisco. It’s not going to help.”

Choose a hydrating lotion that is neutral smelling or with a very light odor. “Smell is alcohol based and that’s drying,” Trybuch said.

Rub the lotion in completely. The feet should feel almost dry when you’re finished. If they’re still greasy, you’ve applied too much lotion.

In addition to wearing sturdy, warm shoes and hydrating the skin, keep feet clean, trim nails and limit pedicures. That’s right, limit pedicures, Trybuch said, even at a clean salon. There can be a health cost attached to colorful toenails and satiny heels.

“Go to a pedicure place sparingly,” Trybuch said when asked the most important action women can take for their trotters. “They are too aggressive for the health of the toe. They try so hard to make callouses go away that they cut too deeply and cause an infection.”

On the farm, Wetherall tends her own toes. “I don’t do a pedicure,” she said.

If you can trim your own nails, that’s great, Trybuch said. If that’s not an option, see a podiatrist. “Your feet must last a lifetime.”

He said that you can still go to a salon for polish and massage.

Or, as the wind blows and snow flakes gather, try foot massage at home. Whether or not you can reach your feet, these four simple motions will soothe and strengthen. You can do them standing or sitting, in socks or bare feet. Just be sure you feel steady if you stand:

  1. Roll the sole of the foot back and forth on a tennis or golf ball. Where spots feel tender, press the foot gently into the ball’s surface.
  1. With feet flat on the floor, squeeze and release the toes. This is particularly pleasant on thick carpeting.
  1. Place a dish towel or bandana under the toes and try to lift it by gripping the toes like fingers.
  1. Lift the foot slightly and write the entire alphabet – cursive or block letters – in the air with your toes. This takes the ankle through a wide range of motion. Repeat with the other foot.

If you can take hold of your foot easily, weave your fingers between the toes and shake hands with your foot. Pull gently on each toe.

Not up for so much touch and movement?

Seated, feet on the floor, imagine dandelion globes on the end of each digit. Breathe in. On an exhalation, imagine the puffs of seeds dispersing as the toes release them. Inhale again and exhale with a sigh.

Send the tootsies some gratitude. They take us where we want to go. They allow us to exercise in ways that energize us. They hold us steady as we work, love and learn.

The prescription’s clear. Set yourself on sturdy soles. Tend the dogs. Cozy them in socks.

“The feet are the foundation of your body,” Trybuch said. “If the foundation is solid, the building is strong.”

— Alexa Mergen
Alexa Mergen teaches small group and private lessons in yoga, meditation and writing in Harpers Ferry, W.V. and Washington, D.C. and edits Yoga Stanza.

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