Flat feet are due to dropped arches. Arches make standing possible because they help to distribute weight across the base of the foot. We walk by using a “heel-toe” movement. Arches enable the heel and toe to make contact with the ground alternately. If you have flat feet your toes and heels have to be lifted to walk: Running is facilitated by the propulsion created by the arches, with the toes as the point of contact. People born with dropped arches seldom feel much discomfort because they are used to them. But if the arches drop because of, say, weight gain, poor nutrition, excess acid in the body or standing all day, this can cause tremendous pain.
The engineering of the feet is complex and fascinating. The main curvature of the arch is formed by the bones, of the feet, including those in your toes and heels, and the muscles that flex and bend the toes downwards. Also involved is the thick rope of fibrous tissue running from the heel to the toes, called the plantar fascia. Problems with this flat tendon-like sheath of connective tissue are the root cause of most aches and pains in the feet.
You can feel the plantar fascia under the thick skin of the soles. It starts off in one piece at the heel, then, about a third of the way up the foot it splits into five sections, each attached to a toe. With flat feet, the plantar ligaments may become overstretched and inflamed. They are painful when standing or walking and can hurt so much at night that they wake you up. The pain may shoot up the leg, resulting in backache. I think your shins hurt because the muscles are becoming strained trying to help the body to walk and this is also affecting the ankles.
Here are my recommendations:
- Excess acidity causes pain in tendons and ligaments, so avoid acidic foods (citrus fruits, kiwis, nuts, pickles, hot curries, chillies, white wine, champagne, brandy, vinegar, pineapples, tomatoes and particularly tomato juice, ready-prepared foods which contain additives and preservatives). We don’t know exactly why the acid causes this pain – it may be because it affects the collagen.
- Avoid coffee and excess salt which make the pain worse.
- Massage the leg and foot with Dr Ali’s Joint Oil, or make up your own with 50 drops of clove oil, 30 drops of eucalyptus oil in l00mlof Ayurvedic Narqran Oil. Start massaging the shin downward from the knee to the ankle, using your thumb or four fingers. Then massage the calf downward to the Achilles tendon. Do this for five minutes. Then use your thumbs to massage the underside of your feet, starting from the heel and going up to the toes. (You will have to sit down and bend your knees to do this, bringing each foot up over the other knee – if you’re unable to do this, ask someone else to do the massage for you.) The plantar fascia will feel very sore, so start with a gentle massage and increase the pressure as you get used to it. Then, with the base of your palm, rub it vigorously until the friction makes it hot. This will take five to seven minutes, by which time you should feel a burning sensation.
- Twice a day, roll your feet on a rolling pin for five minutes.
- At bedtime, apply a hot salt poultice. Heat a cupful of table salt in a dry pan until it becomes very hot. Pour the hot salt on to a small piece of cloth and tie it up to make a ball. Apply the poultice to the sore areas of the foot (If it’s too hot, put a piece of towel between the poultice and your foot until it’s cool enough to apply directly.) Leave for five minutes.
- Anyone who does not have arch supports for their shoes should get them (from a chemist or foot-care centre). Ideally, you should be measured for these by a podiatrist.
- Stand on your heels and toes alternately 20 times each, morning and evening.
- Take one capsule of the Ayurvedic supplement haldi, twice daily for one month, to help ease the inflammation.
- If you need expert help, consult an experienced practitioner, such as Dr Tariq Khan at the Integrated Medical Centre (see far left), who uses herbal oils to treat the pain.