Everything You Need to Know for Healthy Feet

A public service announcement from your tired tootsies: Stash the heels and dole out some loving care with exercises and soothing stretches.

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The Vitals

  • 52: The total number of bones contained in your two feet– that's 25 percent of all the bones in your body.
  • 75,000: About how many miles most people will walk by age 50– roughly three times around the equator.
  • 250,000: The number of glands in the feet. They secrete up to half a pint of sweat daily. (Yay for breathable shoes.)

Feet Need a Workout, Too

They go through a serious growth spurt when you're young, increasing a full size every four to eight months during your first five years. Feet stabilize around age 18 to 20, but once you hit your forties you may need to start shopping for larger shoes again.

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That's because the more than 100 muscles, tendons, and ligaments in each foot begin to weaken at this age, causing your bones—and thus your feet—to spread out. On top of that, the natural fat pads that cushion your soles become thinner after years of stomping around (especially if you're a runner or spend a lot of time in heels), which makes walking barefoot uncomfortable.

To keep your feet strong and pain-free, choose shoes with arch support to take some of the strain off your ligaments, and put your piggies to work three to four times a week with exercises that strengthen the small stabilizing muscles down there. Try using just your toes to pick up and put down marbles, for example, or do towel scrunches: On a slick floor, spread out a towel and stand with feet on the edge of it. Keeping heels in place, use your toes to gradually grab and pull the material toward you, inch by inch.

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They Say a Lot About Your Health

Signs of heart, lung, and circulation issues sometimes show up in the feet first. If your body has trouble pumping blood, keeping your central organs safe becomes its number one priority, so the outer parts, including the feet, get shortchanged. The lack of blood may turn toes white or blue, or lead to pitting (small dentlike depressions) in the surface of the toenails. Talk to your doctor if you notice any of these symptoms. Burning or numbness of the feet should also be examined; either could be a sign of nerve damage caused by high blood sugar levels or diabetes.

Why does your foot cramp? Uncomfortable foot spasms are often a sign of dehydration but could also indicate a nerve issue or poor blood flow. See a doctor if you cramp up often.

Ticklish? That's a Good Thing!

Your feet pack in more than 7,000 supersensitive nerves, many of which lie close to the skin. They give you quick feedback if you tread on a stray Lego piece and also help you keep your balance. Whether you're standing still, walking on ice, or jogging across uneven terrain, nerves in the feet stay alert for changes in pressure or movement. They send messages to the spinal cord and brain about where to place your next step and when you need to readjust your body to stay upright. These nerves become less sensitive as you age—part of the reason why seniors are more prone to falling—but spending time walking around barefoot can help keep them sharp as you get older.

This story originally appeared in the March 2017 issue of Dr. Oz The Good Life.

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