Among the most complex and hardest-working parts of the body—with 26 bones, 33 joints and more than 100 muscles, tendons and ligaments—our feet deserve far more love than they receive (not counting the occasional pedicure). While we eat right to protect our heart and do exercises to maintain a sharp mind, most of us don't do much to keep our toes, heels and ankles in tip-top shape. But we should, especially when you consider that over the course of an average day, our feet are subjected to several hundred tons of force. Fortunately, there are easy ways to take the pressure off. These tips will help you take a step in the right direction:

Help Your Heels

If your heel constantly aches, you could have plantar fasciitis, one of the most common causes of foot pain. The plantar fascia is a thick band of tissue that connects your heel to the base of your toes. With age, the tissue can develop microtears (especially if you're on your feet or you run a lot), causing pain, swelling, or stiffness. But you can reduce discomfort with a variety of nonsurgical treatments, from shoe inserts to splints. You can also try stretching: First, warm up your ankle by spelling P-A-I-N-F-R-E-E on the ground with the big toe of each foot—this takes your ankle through a full range of motion. Then, sit on your bed with your legs straight out in front of you. Holding a towel with both hands, loop it around one foot and flex your ankle. Tug gently until you feel a stretch in your calf, hold for 30 seconds, and then repeat with the other foot. This will loosen the plantar fascia and the Achilles tendon. But if nothing seems to provide long-term relief, don't give up hope: Scientists are testing ultrasonic energy as a minimally invasive method to remove damaged fascia. A recent study found that people who received this therapy reported greater than 90 percent symptom improvement that lasted six months.

Find Your Perfect Fit

You already know that high heels can do a real number on your feet (every inch of height shifts more weight onto the toes and balls of your feet, putting stress on the tiny bones and joints), but you're not necessarily in the clear if you wear flats, which might not provide adequate arch support. Any pointy shoe can squeeze your big toe out of alignment, deforming the joint and potentially triggering or exacerbating painful bunions. And don't forget to check your shoe size. One study found that about 88 percent of women wear shoes—heels, sneakers and flats—that are, on average, at least half an inch too small. Ligaments and tendons naturally loosen with age, and it's been estimated that you can gain as much as half a size every ten years after age 40. If you haven't checked your shoe size recently, consider this your excuse to go shopping.

Stretch Those Toes

If you simply won't give up wearing heels, you can do a few things to minimize soreness. My favorite exercise: Put a marble on the ground and pick it up with your toes ten times. This helps strengthen the muscles around your toes. Another winner: Ice your feet for ten minutes when you get home—my wife swears by this.


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