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The Doctor is IN! Non-Surgical Approach to Decrease Foot and Ankle Pain

Welcome Dr. Cathleen McCarthy, podiatrist and author of Podiatry Shoe Review, an indispensible source of shoe wisdom for problem feet.

First, I’d like to thank Kirsten for giving me the opportunity to be a guest writer on her blog!Dr.mccarthy

My name is Cathleen McCarthy and I’m a Podiatric Physician who specializes in comprehensive and gentle foot and ankle care for patients of all ages. I’ve been in private practice in Scottsdale, Arizona since October 2000 and I have developed a common sense biomechanical approach to foot and ankle pain that has an exceptionally high success rate. I’m a surgeon who no longer does surgery because I sincerely believe that less than one percent of patients actually need surgery. It’s my opinion that most patients experiencing foot and ankle pain need to stop walking barefoot and get into better shoes! 

If you are willing to give my approach four weeks, I think that there is an extremely high chance that this will change your life for the better. The advantages of following these rules are that you will:

  1.  Decrease foot and ankle pain
  2. Decrease risk of injury. 
  3. Save money in medical bills.
  4. Have prettier feet.
  5. Stay active longer as you age.
  6.  Improve knee, hip and lower back pain.
  7.  Have a healthier lifestyle 

Top Ten Things To Relieve Foot Pain Today…

1. Stop Walking Barefoot.
Forget about what people say about being barefoot being “natural” – being naked is “natural” but we all wear clothes to protect our bodies from the elements. It’s wise to protect your feet also. There’s nothing “natural” about walking around on concrete all day! Plus, if your feet weren’t hurting, you probably wouldn’t be reading this.

2. Stop Wearing Flip-Flops.
Try an experiment – have someone video you on their cell phone from behind as you walk barefoot or wear flip-flops. Now video you doing the same thing while wearing proper shoes with arch support. Pay attention to what is happening to your feet, ankles and knees. Not pretty, is it? Flip-flops cause lots of extra wear-and-tear on your joints, muscles and tendons. Remember, you’re either beating up your feet – or you’re beating up your shoes. If you think what you’re shoes look like after several years of wear, what do you think is happening to your joints?  

3. Stop Walking Around the House Wearing Only Socks.
Wearing only socks offers minimal protection and zero biomechanical control. Although I do recommend wearing socks with shoes, if you are walking around the house in only socks – that is only slightly better than being barefoot.  

4. Stop Wearing Flimsy Bedroom Slippers.
If your slippers are flexible or bend too easily, you may be causing damage to your joints as well as setting yourself up for potential injury. Most injuries occur in the house – and I am constantly amazed at how many injuries occur as a patient is walking between the bed and the bathroom at two in the morning. 

5. Around the house – as a bedroom slipper – wear Crocs RX clogs with the strap to the back.

Do you have heel pain? How about knee, hip, or lower back pain? This is probably the cheapest and best medical advice you will ever get! If you wear Croc Rx Clogs with the strap to the back around the house, you will probably have a significant improvement in a very short period of time. Remember: The only time you should be barefoot and standing is in the shower!  

6. For a great Walking Shoe – go to a New Balance Store and purchase New Balance 928 Walking Shoe with Roll-Bar Technology. It has a wide base with an extra-depth toebox.

I often write my patients prescriptions for this shoe, which can often make it tax deductible and give them a 10% discount at any New Balance store. I truly believe that proper shoes are medically necessary for many patients because it will decrease pain, risk of injury and stop or slow the progression of many foot deformities as well as prevent surgery. Not to mention make your life more pleasant because you will have less pain and you can concentrate on staying active and having fun! 

7. Elevate and Rest Your Feet and use topical pain relievers like: Biofreeze or Traumeel. Both are over-the-counter and safe. 
Don’t underestimate the power of rest! As a physician, I am always amazed at the body’s healing power so – at the end of the day, grab a good book and put those feet up… 

8. Wear Arch Support.

Whether it’s a Custom-Molded Orthotics or a good over-the-counter insert, which you can purchase from your local Podiatrist or your local running shoe store. Ten percent of people cannot tolerate arch support, which means you have a ninety percent chance that arch support can improve your life. I wish Las Vegas had those odds! Good arch support can also significantly help with knee, hip and lower back pain. I’ve had patients say, “I have high arches – I don’t need arch support” and my response is, “Bridges have arches but engineers design them with struts for support.” It’s the same with your foot – support under the arch means less strain on the joints, tendons and muscles. Custom-molded orthotics from your Podiatrist are far superior to over-the-counter inserts but, if you are constrained by a budget, at least get the over-the-counter inserts so that you get some degree of arch support. 

9. Wear Diabetic Socks for extra cushion and comfort. 
It sounds silly but I’ve been to lectures entitled “Current Technological Advances in Socks and Sock Strategy.” Proper socks can decrease friction and thereby decrease calluses, corns, blisters and heel fissures. Diabetic socks may cost a couple dollars more but hopefully will be well worth it! 

10. Make an Appointment with your local Podiatrist!

Try to find a Podiatrist that specializes in conservative, non-surgical treatment of the foot and ankle. In my opinion, less than one percent of patients with foot pain need surgery. I am not referring to foot “procedures” that can be done in the office such as fixing ingrown toenails – I am referring to more serious surgeries such as bunions and fusions of joints that will permanently change your foot and ankle biomechanics. Foot surgery is more than you think! The foot heals slower, hurts more, and swells more because while you are trying to heal it – you are walking on it! Not to mention, recovering from foot surgery poses many risks and the results are never guaranteed. I always tell my patients that the goal of surgery is to take an “abnormal painful foot” and turn it into an “abnormal non-painful foot.” 

The only time you should consider having foot surgery is if you have tried everything and completely exhausted conservative treatment and you cannot perform your normal daily activities because of the pain.

Before you have foot surgery, please get a second or even third opinion! Most biomechanical foot pain can be resolved using conservative, non-surgical treatment.  

Have a Great Day!

Dr. Cathleen McCarthy


About the Author

Blogger, Wife, Mom, Dog-Lover, Coffee Drinker, Owl Watcher.



20 Responses to The Doctor is IN! Non-Surgical Approach to Decrease Foot and Ankle Pain

  1. spacegeek says:

    Very good article, as I sit here with my foot elevated and iced from bunion surgery 10 days ago… (My 3rd such surgery in 10 years). I am going to try the socks, and am thinking hard about what to do with my beloved flip-flops. Thanks for this info!

  2. amy says:

    Points 1-4 are really the same thing, and are alleviated by point 8.

    Wonder why she would recommend Crocs over something like Birkenstock clogs? Those are my go-to and (imo) much less fugly. 🙂

  3. Nancy says:

    Recommended shoes are hideous. Please keep in mind people still want to have some style!

  4. Susan K says:

    Hmm… I am really suspicious about this advice. If we needed so much support, then why do pediatricians recommend minimal support and no shoes for babies as they learn to walk? Why don’t we hear about the foot problems of people in more traditional societies? I realize that people have injuries and other problems that require special shoes, particularly with age or weight gain (I definitely need more support with my 30+ lbs pregnancy weight gain), but this all sounds like a recipe for weaker feet, a lot of money being spent on necessary products, and very very ugly shoes.

  5. larner says:

    I agree with the ideas of opting for the natural remedies to treat the joint and the body pains. They don’t have any side effects s. It’s good to come across such a valuable post.

  6. SusanB. says:

    To the poster who is “suspicious” of advice for supportive footwear – you can disagree with someone else’s opinion without being “suspicious”. While it may be true that people aren’t born with shoes on their feet, women also aren’t born with bras on their breasts, but one look at a National Geographic magazine will show you what a lifetime of no support will do for you.

  7. Kirsten@BarkingDogShoes says:

    Dr. McCarthy recommends more stylish shoes on her website http://www.podiatryshoereview.blogspot.com I understand the New Balance and Crocs RX are ugly, but the title of the article is “Non-Surgical Approach to treating Foot and Ankle Pain.” If you’re trying to avoid bunion or other invasive foot surgery, you’re up for trying anything! Heck, I’ve considered trying the New Balance shoes she suggests, but do agree they’re unsightly. But I take my walks at dusk, so the shoes wouldn’t get much daylight wear…ha.

  8. Nancy says:

    Kirsten… appreciate you weighing in and keeping it real!
    I’d walk with you at dusk in those bad boys anytime, but never in broad daylight!
    LOL!

  9. Kirsten@BarkingDogShoes says:

    They are bad boys, aren’t they?

  10. Caro says:

    Thanks so much for emphasizing the importance of socks. I have gotten to the point in my life where I absolutely refuse to wear uncomfortable shoes, but I was still bothered by occasional “hotspots” and rubbing of my feet. The culprit: the socks! I now invest in good socks.

  11. Anonypilgrim says:

    It’s a shame Crocs don’t come in half sizes. I want to buy good shoes, but they have to fit my feet or it’s pointless.

  12. Cathleen A McCarthy says:

    Hi Spacegeek,
    Thanks for reading! When you are healed, try getting a Fit-Flop sandal like the ‘Fleur’. It’s pretty and much better than flip flops and will ease you into a world without flip-flops.
    Good luck!
    Cathy
    🙂

  13. Cathleen A McCarthy says:

    Hi Kirsten,
    I agree that the NB 928 are chunky, funky and clunky – and not in a good way! BUT, if you are having foot or ankle pain, they are awesome. Thank you so much for posting the article. What’s great about this approach is your readers can always try the method for four weeks and judge the results for themselves.
    I hope all is well and happy Memorial Day!
    Cathy
    🙂

  14. Cathleen A McCarthy says:

    Hi Susan K,
    Thank you so much for reading the article! As a Podiatrist, no one ever comes in my office and says, “My feet feel awesome and here is my fifty dollar co-pay.” By the time they end up in my office, they are usually suffering with chronic pain, so my advice is especially for anyone with foot or ankle pain. People are always concerned about ‘weaker feet’ but I would argue that, in proper shoes and inserts, you can exercise as much as you want to so that you can strengthen your feet. The problem is that when people do barefoot exercises (or wear minimalist shoes), they might end up with superior muscle tone to their feet (maybe) but, what good is that if they destroy their joints? In defense of “ugly shoes”, all I can say is I would rather have ugly shoes than ugly feet.
    Thank you so much for your feedback and, if you decide to give the method a try, I would love to hear your feedback.
    Thank you and have a lovely weekend!
    Cathy
    🙂

  15. Olivia says:

    I wonder about the Croc recommendation, too. I pretty much only wear Birkenstocks.

  16. ClaraT says:

    I have painful bunions and FItFlops (recommended several years ago by my podiatrist) have been lifesavers. I appreciate your comments and recommendations, Dr. Mc Carthy.

  17. Susan says:

    Right on Kirsten…thats when wisdom and sensibility oversee the need to be a fashion plate or care what people think…thumbs up girlfriend!

  18. Beverly Nelson says:

    I’m not sure how Dr. McCarthy feels about the Orthoheel flip flops. But they’ve been a lifesaver for my feet. Had fasciitis problems and found the Orthoheel flip flops worked well for me. I thought I’d pass this along to you before you give up on the beloved flip flop. Check with her to see how she feels about their brand.

  19. Beverly Nelson says:

    I agree with you Nancy. We have feet issues but don’t want to give up our style. Surely someone somewhere has designed some better looking orthotic shoes!!

  20. Beverly Nelson says:

    I agree… at dusk is fine but not for daytime wear. LOL

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