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How to Prevent Foot Pain From Derailing Your Next Adventure

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Even though Rock/Creek is best known for outfitting people for technical endeavors like trail running, backpacking, rock climbing, and paddling, we also see a lot of people in search of daily footwear solutions—especially when they’re dealing with plantar fasciitis (inflammation of the “arch” muscles on the bottom of the foot due to over use.) Most of the time, symptoms include a burning sensation in the forefoot, a sharp pain around the heel, or pain in the Achilles tendon. We’ve found that many people lack a proper understanding of the biomechanical causes of plantar fasciitis and consequently live in pain far too long by pursuing treatment options that are often temporary fixes.

Let’s be clear: We’re not doctors. But we know what works for most of our customers through our experiences in the footwear department. We’ve adopted four main principles that typically solve most common foot problems, and we like to think of them as the magic combination when treating foot pain.

1. You need stiff, supportive footwear.

Enjoying an early morning run.
Enjoying an early morning run.
Curtis Mac Newton

This is counterintuitive because people generally associate comfort with light, soft, and flexible footwear. Lightweight footwear might be comfortable for short periods of time, but generally not for all-day use. The reality is that the more flexible a shoe is, the more work your foot has to do in order to walk in it – which is especially relevant for people that walk a lot of miles every day. Doctors, nurses, teachers, contractors, and retail sales associates are great examples of people who need firm, supportive shoes for walking and standing on hard surfaces all day.

Interestingly, the meaning behind a “stiff shoe” has evolved in recent years, especially with a relatively new brand of running shoes called Hoka One One. Typically, we would put people in stiff hiking boots in order to allow foot to relax and recover rather than over exert all day. However, the heavier weight of a boot seems cumbersome to most people for daily use.

When Hoka released their initial line of shoes several years ago, we quickly realized that they supplied all the stability of a hiking boot in a lightweight package. They might look a little funny, but Hokas have helped our customers tremendously when battling plantar fasciitis and general foot fatigue. We’ve really never seen this great of success with any other athletic shoe so far.

2. Use an insert that actually does something.

People swear by Superfeet for a reason
People swear by Superfeet for a reason
Rock/Creek

Most shoes do not come with a supportive insert. Whatever you think you feel when you put on the shoe will compress through daily use relatively quickly. It’s important to realize that in most cases there is a need for an after-market insert that actually supports the foot rather than just cushions it. It’s important to note that different shoes have different constructions, which is why it’s a good idea to consult an expert who is familiar with the construction of different models.

Superfeet makes some of our favorite inserts that directly support the foot, rather than simply providing soft cushion. Many mainstream companies solely implement padding, which actually allows the foot to continue in the same movement that caused initial energy and can eventually compound the injury to other areas of the body, such as the legs and hips.

According to Superfeet users and sellers, this brand is different. Using strategic construction, which functions to relieve the foot, Superfeet is undoubtedly the best insert brand on the market.

Matt Gooch, Research and Education Manager at Superfeet, is living proof of the brand’s capabilities.

Gooch first started experiencing foot problems at a very young age. “I used to get really bad foot cramps. I’d wake up crying, and my mom would have to come in and massage my feet,” he said.

As Gooch grew up, the issues only worsened. He dealt with constant injuries, related to running cross country and track throughout high school and college. “[Foot health] was always something I was aware of and interested in, especially as I progressed in my athletic career.”

Gooch bought his first pair of Superfeet inserts his sophomore year of college, while studying exercise science. It was at this time he realized that his interests in exercise, biology, and anatomy could also mesh with his personal dealings of foot pain.

“Oddly enough, I was wearing Superfeet for seven or eight years before I ever started working for them,” he said, adding that this not only gives him credibility within the Superfeet brand, but that he still possesses an authentic outsider’s familiarity and appreciation for the company’s mission.

So what does the insole do to help?

“Any time you put one of these insoles under your foot, it’s going to have an immediate effect on how your body receives impact from the ground,” said Gooch, adding that the sole absorbs force, serving as an added layer between the ground’s direct impact and the body. “It helps dictate how those forces move up from the foot.”

By creating shape around the foot, where there was little shape before, an insole helps influence the foot more than a shoe has the ability to. “Our main goal outside of the biomechanics and that interpretation of force under the foot is to make things more comfortable,” said Gooch. That said, when a contoured shape is introduced, not only is the environment more comfortable, but it’s more personalized to the individual’s unique foot.

While pain is generally highly individualized from person to person (i.e. shin splintz, heel pain, planter fasciitis, etc.), the varied materials, shapes and construction methods that Superfeet uses can have a drastic, positive impact.

“I’m never going to be the one who says ‘put this under your foot and everything will magically be better,’” Gooch laughs. “But there are ways to create an environment less stressful for your foot, which translates up through your body step by step. Insoles aren’t the only component to rehabilitation, but there are a number of ways they help play a role in the recovery process!”

Today, Gooch considers his career a “self-serving job”, in which he gets to make an interesting product, market it, and hopefully sell something that he believes genuinely betters lives. “One of the big corporate initiatives we have is to make a positive difference in all of the lives that we touch,” he said. “Foot pain is one of those things that saps people of their inspiration to get out and move and be active. So, whether it be helping a grandma be able to get out and play with her grandkids, or helping someone train for the Boston Marathon, this product has helped since 1977.”

3. Wear compression socks.

Compression socks aren't ugly hospital hoses any longer
Compression socks aren’t ugly hospital hoses any longer
Rock/Creek

Nobody wants to wear a medical grade hose. Not only are they unattractive, but they’re nearly impossible to get on. Luckily,  Sockwell —a Chattanooga-based company—creates socks made of 100% USA grown merino, which uses compression to increase blood flow and circulation.

“Our feet are so freaking important. The average person walks 75,000 miles by age 50; and of course if you’re an athlete, by the time you’re 30 you’ve probably done this,” said Mercedes Marchand, co-founder of Goodhew/Sockwell and VP of Design and Merchandising. “We all know the importance of foot product, but that layer in between is equally important!”

The Goodhew/Sockwell brand is basically a culmination of Marchand’s history with the fashion industry (in which she worked for top designer brands in New York, such as Ralph Lauren) as well as her love of the outdoors, health, and wellness.

When Marchand entered the outdoor industry, she realized that it needed a severe push from the fashion industry. “I feel that I had a part in bringing that switch of color and design to the outdoor industry,” she said, reminiscing to the days when athletic gear could only be purchased in neutral grays and browns.

However, it was never just about “the look” for Marchand. As a former triathlete and avid backpacker and hiker, Marchand is well-versed in injury and knows the importance of proper foot care. Since the brand’s inception, her primary goal has been to introduce medical technology into fashion. “I feel uniquely qualified, because I have that vision,” she said.

Since joining Sockwell, Marchand has attended Eneslow Pedorthic Institutde, enrolling in various pedorthic-approved classes to learn more about foot anatomy and the ways that feet are impacted by surroundings.

Sockwell socks are made with all-American natural merino wool and bamboo materials. This combination keeps feet warm in the winter, while controlling moisture year-round. Marchand points out that keeping feet dry prevents the growth of bacteria and minimizes issues such as foot fungi and athlete’s foot.

With this interesting material combo the sock is constructed with specific cushioned purpose. “The structure is really important in giving more support, blood flow, and minimizing swelling, while cushion also protects against blisters,” explained Marchand.

In her time working for Sockwell, Marchand has seen the brand directly help users. She explains that these compression socks address varied foot problems—from planter fasciitis, to heel and ankle problems, bunions and blisters—proving a well-rounded merit.

“It’s very rewarding to take the learning and experiences of my adult life and put it together in a product line that can help people feel better,” she said. “They feel good, they look good, and you’ll be a lot healthier and happier using them.”

4. Be disciplined with recovery.

Resting and enjoying the view.
Resting and enjoying the view.
Joseph Barrientos

“Your body is a machine. Think of it like a car. If you don’t take the time to do maintenance on your car, it’s going to break down,” she said. “We damage our bodies all day everyday from work to recreational activities. We’ve become a society that’s go-go-go all the time, and we have to be able to take a step back and listen to what our bodies are saying,” said Rebecca Wykle, Physical Therapist at Peak Fitness and Physical Therapy.

Wykle has dealt with myriad client injuries, many of whom simply expect too much of their bodies. She said that overtraining, followed by a lack of post-workout care, can lead to serious issues.

Wykle said that sometimes all it takes is a rest day or a new pair of running shoes to promote blood flow and quicken the healing process; other times we need to completely restructure our workouts, including cross-training and lower impact exercises. And sometimes, it’s necessary to meet with a physical therapist specialist.

“Of course I’m biased, but my recommendation is to get it checked out by someone who can look at your biomechanics and how you’re moving to see what is specifically causing that injury,” said Wykle. “A lot of people don’t understand that they have access to physical therapists without physician order. A lot of times, if they come see a PT, we can give them an exercise or stretch they need. Being proactive and learning an injury early on is so important.”

In the case of plantar fasciitis, Moji products are great for massaging and promoting blood flow. Another wonderful product is “the stick”, which releases tight muscles when rolled over calves and shins, causing muscles to relax and undergo less strain. For a household remedy, try using a cold canned beverage. Sit the can horizontally on the floor, and roll your foot overtop of it while you watch TV.

Foot pain is an important topic for us because it affects so many people that we see on a daily basis. We feel confident that if you give some of these principles a shot, you will see dramatic improvements in the overall well-being of your body—particularly if you spend all day on your feet or if you’re battling foot pain in general.

We also want to mention that since we are not doctors, we frequently recommend that people consult a professional podiatrist or physician if their initial efforts don’t yield desired results. Our adopted principles are merely a starting point that have a proven track record of taking care of most common types of foot problems. Hopefully, this information will assist you in becoming healthier and happier during your work and play.

Featured image provided by David Marcu