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Finding two feet, and 10 toes, to stand on

March 08, 2002|BY LISA TEDRICK PREJEAN

My son was teetering back and forth, side to side from one foot to the other.

"Why do we need our toes?" he asked.

I looked down at his feet and the way he was moving and thought the answer should be obvious.

"Well, what would happen if you didn't have any toes on your feet at this moment?"

He grinned and gazed at the floor.

"Yeah, you'd probably fall," I said. "You need your toes for balance."

They also provide propulsion.

If you didn't have toes, you wouldn't have the ability to push off when you walk or run, says Dr. Mark Roemer, a podiatrist with Podiatry Associates in Hagerstown and Martinsburg, W.Va.

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"Everybody takes their feet for granted," Roemer says.

We use our feet more often and more intensely than many other body parts and then we're surprised when we have problems with our toes or heels or arches, Roemer says.

Feet are amazing things. They contain 26 to 28 bones - two bones are not present in some people - which allow for flexing, bending and twisting, enabling us to negotiate all types of terrains and conditions.

The bones work as a unit to absorb shock. When you run or jump, the feet absorb the shock of two to three times your body weight.

And there are dozens of muscles in the feet, large ones and extremely small ones. The way they work together is quite complicated.

Wiggle your toe.

You just used about a half dozen muscles.

Here are some tips from Roemer to help keep your family's feet healthy:

- Kids may be tempted to skip washing their feet, especially in the shower. Remind them that it's important to wash their feet well and to dry between their toes after washing. The wetness can cause a fungal infection, commonly known as athlete's foot.

- Put lotion on the feet after a bath to keep the skin soft.

- If your child is taking showers in a public place, such as a gym, pool or campground, have him wear a shower shoe or a flip-flop. This will reduce his chance of getting athlete's foot or a plantar wart.

- Cut toe nails straight across. If you cut at an angle, you're inviting an ingrown toe nail. And if you have to dig at a corner to get the nail away from the skin, you might be helping a fungus make its way under the nail.

- Have your feet measured for shoes, both for width and length. The length should be to your longest toe, which in some people is the second or third toe. There should be a space 1/4 inch to 1/2 inch between the end of the longest toe and the shoe.

This is especially important in athletic shoes because a running foot flattens out more than a foot that is stationary. If your toes hurt or your nails turn black, your shoes are probably too small.

- Buy shoes in the evening because your foot is slightly larger then. (Most people experience some swelling in their feet during the day.)

- Wear shoes and socks that breathe well. (Ones that allow moisture to escape.) Light use of a talc-based powder may help feet that sweat a lot.

- For sports, select shoes with good shock absorption in the heel and support in the arch.

- If your child seems to be flat-footed, ask your pediatrician or podiatrist if orthotics are needed.

"As they develop, you can control the problem and correct it," Roemer says.

Left untreated, flat-feet can cause heel pain, hammertoes, bunions and other problems, he says.

Lisa Tedrick Prejean writes a weekly column for The Herald-Mail's Family page. Send e-mail to her at lisap@herald-mail.com.

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