Travel Smart

 

Walk This Way for Happy Feet
How do you protect your feet on energetic walking and hiking tours? Heed the advice of prominent chiropodist, Kenny Weinberg, D.Ch.
By Toby Saltzman

It served me right. I knew better than to wear flats on walking tours. Meanwhile, I did just that - four times in a row, with little rest in between, mind you - on a chain of wonderful trips that took me from Germany's hilltop villages of half-timbered houses to Italy's verdant hills of Tuscany to England's cultural icons in London and across the ocean on the Queen Elizabeth II to the galleries and shops of New York. If I wanted to look smart all the while, I didn't feel so smart when the arches of my feet dropped their dissent.

That was last summer. Now, much smarter with hindsight and boosted by therapeutic (not to mention costly) orthotics, I've learned to put my feet first, fashion second.

"People who don't protect their feet inevitably develop problems," said chiropodist Ken Weinberg while wrapping my feet in plaster-wet fabric to create a second set of orthotic molds for my golf shoes.

"Don't take chances. It's important to wear good sensible running shoes with adequate support and good soles that aren't too rigid. You may be tempted by the convenience of velcro, but lace-up shoes will hold your feet in a better position. When you need new shoes, shop at the end of the day, when your feet are most swollen, for the most correct fit. And shop at a store that specializes in proper fitting, where people understand foot health, and (if you wear them) the right shoes for your orthotics."

Since your feet form the entire foundation of your body Weinberg suggests that even people with apparently healthy feet should see a foot specialist once a year. "The foot is so complex, yet often people's feet are asymptomatic of other problems: they may feel no pain in their feet. Yet they may have a structural problem forming that they are not aware of. Problems in the feet can throw the lower back out of alignment, resulting in severe inflammation and pain in the knees, hips and lower back."

It's important to travel sensibly, says the foot specialist. "Try to schedule in five-minute rest stops every hour just to give your feet a break. On long tours, try to elevate your feet during those breaks to allow less chance of edema or swelling. And while walking, try to keep the level of perspiration down in your shoes: a light dusting of baking soda on your feet will reduce the hot, irritable feeling of "feet on fire."

As for the type of socks, "There's a debate between what's better: 100% cotton or nylon-and-cotton. I wear cotton myself." Surprisingly, color is important. White is best for diabetics and athletes. Weinberg cautions people who are diabetic, with all the associated problems, to wear white socks when walking long distances. "Diabetics can easily develop neurophaty - a potentially dangerous loss of sensation in feet - if they get a cut, blister or ulceration, they'll see the blood and be aware of the problem. Athletes - particularly baseball and football players and serious golfers - can develop "turf toe" or bleeding under the toe nail resulting from constant trauma to the nail from ill-fitting shoes."

My plaster molds were dry and hard by the time Weinberg finished giving his advice. By this time, too, I'd learned that putting my best foot forward had more to do with being sensible than being fashionable.

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