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Francigena Fitness: what are flat feet?

flat-feet-camino-preparation-advice-caminowaysWe have a new series of articles focusing on fitness and health by specialist Pete from D-Pete Health and Fitness in Rathfarnham, Dublin. If you are preparing for the Via Francigena, the Camino to Rome, or any other walking holiday, this series of advice focusing on common ailments and how to treat them will be very useful. This month, Pete focuses on flat feet: what it is, injuries associated and easy tips to help you if you have flat feet.

By Pete

What are Flat-feet?

Having flat (pronated) feet means that your foot tends to roll inwards when you walk, run or even stand. For example; when you walk, the first point of contact is your heel, then the whole foot comes into contact with the ground – this is where the foot collapses inwards, giving you the flat foot. Finally the last point of contact is the front of the foot (forefoot and toes), this propels you forward, allowing you to continue on walking. Everybody experiences flat feet when walking and running etc! This is needed for shock absorption when coming in contact with the ground. It’s also needed for stabilising and adjusting the foot when walking on different terrain. But when the rolling in of the foot becomes exaggerated, that’s when someone may start to experience problems with their feet, knees, hips and even low back. Remember, the feet carry the entire weight of your body, so when the foot collapses inwards, it’s the weight of your body that collapses inwards too. So what happens next? Your body will start to compensate in attempt to regain its stability i.e. fight against the collapsing of the inner foot. This can a profound effect on the rest of the body especially at the knees and hips.

Injuries associated with Flat-feet:

Shin Splint: this is when you experience pain along the front of the thigh when walking or running for a certain period of time and it is relieved at rest.
Knee Pain: typically the pain is more prominent along the inside of the knee but can also occur at the front under or behind the knee cap and is aggravated when walking or climbing stairs.
Planter fasciitis: a common form of heel pain especially when standing up and walking first thing in the morning. It is caused by the straining of the ligament that supports the arch of the foot which will eventually become weak, swollen and inflamed.
Achilles Tendonitis: an overuse injury of the Achilles Tendon. This is the narrow, taught band of soft tissue that connects the heel with the rest of the calf muscle (the muscle located at the back of the lower leg)
Bunions: a bony bump that forms at the base of your big toe. It forms when your big toe pushes against your next toe, forcing the joint of your big toe to get bigger and stick out. The skin over the bunion might then become red and sore.
Tarsal tunnel syndrome: a painful condition of the foot caused by pressure placed along a nerve that passes along a tunnel like structure just below the bony aspect along the inside of the ankle. Symptoms include burning pain that can radiate into the arch of the foot, heel and sometimes the toes. Pins and needles and/or numbness may also be felt along the sole of the foot.

How do I know if I have Flat-feet?

1. Stand up and look at your feet!
Do you have a clear arch on the inside of the foot? If so then you do not have flat feet. However, if the innermost part of the sole touches the floor, then you may have flat feet.
2. Look at the soles of your running/ every day shoes?
If they are worn on the inside of the sole in particular, then you may have flat feet.
3. The wet foot test!
Wet your feet and walk along a section of paving and look at the footprints. A normal foot print will leave a print of the heel, a slender inner portion and a wider forefoot (If you have flat feet then there may be little distinction between the heel and forefoot i.e. the middle part of the foot print is quite wide and not narrow.
4. Visit a podiatrist or Physical Therapist who also specialises in orthotics!
They will be able to measuring exactly the forces and angles of the foot whilst running and walking. Please keep in mind! You may have flat feet, but that DOES NOT mean that you need CUSTOMISED ORTHOTICS that will cost you hundreds of euro. Please read below!
Things you can do!

1. Buy insoles with inside support at your local pharmacy. Scholl Adjustable Gel Arch Supports are quite good which allow you to change the support to light, medium or firm.
Remember it can take week or so to get used to the insoles. Where them at intervals throughout the day until you get used to them. At the beginning they feel awkward and
uncomfortable, but in time your foot will get used to it. Start off with the light support and work your way up if you need to.
2. There are Specific Exercises you can do to strengthen the arch of the foot to prevent it from collapsing in. Theoretically they should work, but it still has not been scientifically proven to be effective. More research is required.
3. Strengthen your Hips: By strengthening your buttocks and other core muscles, you will improve the alignment of the hips when walking, running, jumping etc Weak hips are very common especially among those who sit for long periods throughout the day or who are generally in-active.

Talk to you Soon!

*Pete will be taking part in the CaminoWays.com Walking Festival on Sunday 27th July where he will give fitness and health advice to walkers.

*For more information about the Via Francigena pilgrim trail, the Camino to Rome, or to book your walking holiday, contact our travel specialists.

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