Somehow, we tend to forget about our feet.
Until we stub or toe, or step on a rock, or have a cramp in our foot, or get the foot ick, we pretty much ignore their existence other than as a thing to put shoes on. But, our feet are just as essential a part of our body as any other–they are the place where we meet the earth and the way that we get around.
And yet, there are a number of things that can “go wrong” with our feet. Many of them can be prevented or lessened by proper nutrition, exercise, and hygiene, some of them can be healed with time and alternative therapies from massage to specialized exercise.
As always, (the disclaimer) I am not a physician. I have medical experience and I have a long time interest in herbalism, that is all. This information is not meant as a substitute to actual medical care from a medical professional. Use at your own terms and at your own risk. And for Pete’s sake, if you think that you have a serious injury, please go to the emergency room!!
*Soak your feet in warm water with salt and baking soda added (1 quart of water to 1 tablespoon salt and 2 tablespoons baking soda) for at least 10 minutes at least once a day until the problem clears up.
*Slather 5 drops tea tree essential oil, 5 drops lavender essential oil, and 2 drops lemon essential oil in 1 tsp carrier oil massaged onto the feet.
*Allow your feet and your shoes to air out thoroughly as often as possible. Wear clean socks. Keep your feet dry and they should stay happy…
*Some herbalists recommend taking garlic orally (for dosing information, try here)
There is one item of G.I. gear that can be the difference between a live grunt and a dead grunt. Socks. Cushioned sole, O.D. green. Try and keep your feet dry. When we’re out humpin’, I want you boys te remember to change your socks whenever we stop. The Mekong will eat a grunts feet right off his legs.
Thus speaks Lt. Dan, from Forrest Gump
One of the most common causes of heel and foot pain, Plantar Fasciitis is the straining of the plantar fascia (the ligament that runs from the heel to the toe and forms the arch of the foot) and associated inflammation. If you are on your feet a lot (particularly on hard surfaces), overweight, pregnant, have high arches or flat feet, wearing worn out or improperly fitted foot wear, or you have tight Achilles tendons or calf muscles, you may be prone to PF. If you wake up in the morning and have pain in your feet for the first few steps until you get “warmed up”, and after taking stairs or on a long walk, it might be Plantar Fasciitis. To treat PF, try to stay off your feet for a bit first. Also, make sure your shoes fit properly, offer arch support, and are in good condition–consider inserts as an option if needed. Keep in mind that it can take upwards of 12 weeks for PF to resolve.
- Pain relievers can help with pain from PF…this is one of those times when the miracle of modern pharmaceuticals has herbs beat, period. It will only help with the pain, and it does not fix the underlying problem, but…go ibuprofen!
- Stretching the foot regularly, as well as the Achilles tendon and calf muscle, can help relieve PF. For a list of stretches, check here.
- If you think Achilles and calf tightness is part of the underlying problem, you may want to consider night time splints, which keep your feet at a 90 degree angle. Also, if you are a stomach sleeper, change your sleeping position–stomach sleeping requires your feet to be pointed which results in shortening your calf muscles for about 8 hours of your day, leading to lack of flexibility and PF. Night splints make it much more difficult (if not nearly impossible) to sleep on your stomach.
- For PF, you may want to consider alternative hot and cold baths for your foot/feet. Another option for cold therapy is using a frozen juice can and rolling it under your foot along your arch (if you don’t like the cold, you can do this with a rolling pin or tennis ball).
- Foot and lower leg massage! An oil infused with arnica and chamomile, may be helpful in encouraging healing and relieving pain. A foot bath can also be prepared with these herbs.
- Some herbalists recommend taking ginger, or other anti-inflammatory herbs, internally to reduce pain and swelling in the foot, caused by PF.
Calluses and Corns
Corns and calluses are both areas of thickened skin caused by excess friction and pressure. Corns are tender areas generally on top or side of the toe, while calluses are less tender and located on the soles of the feet (or palms of the hands). Corns and calluses might not be attractive, but they generally don’t cause problems either. Diabetes or other circulatory problems can be problematic though, so consult with your physician if this is an issue. Infection is also a possibility though, so if this is suspected, see a professional.
In the mean time, the best way to get rid of calluses and corns is to stop whatever causes the irritation of the skin, within a few weeks, it they should resolve on their own. For many people, this goes back to the ill fitting shoe problem. Either way, don’t cut your calluses off! Instead, soak your feet (or hands) in a foot bath, exfoliate (pumice stones are your friend!), and slather your feet up with some salve.
Pain in the ball of the foot, where the metatarsal joint are–basically, the ball of the foot behind the toes. Metatarsalgia has the same symptoms and most of the same causes as PF, it just effects a different part of the foot. One thing to be wary of–metatarsalgia that does not resolve can be caused by something called Morton’s neuroma, a non-cancerous tumor growing around the metatarsal nerves (and its often caused by wearing shoes that are too tight in that area of the foot, particularly heels). Also, because metatarsaligia is not a condition on its own, but rather a symptom, consider seeking medical attention if pain persists Rest, pain relievers and better shoes (wide toes and a rocker sole to take pressure off the heel to toe motion) are the usual recommendations. Icing, foot baths, and foot massage are also recommended alternative therapies.
Herbs for Feet
Foot baths and salves are great ways to use herbs on the feet. Some awesome foot herbs include peppermint, calendula, rosemary, sage, lavender, yarrow and marshmallow root. For carrier oils, try avocado oil for dry and cracked skin, and lanolin added to a nice homemade salve.
The Herbal Foot Bath:
Fill a 1- 2 gallon cooking pot with spring or distilled water, if possible. Bring the water to a boil and add herbs, then simmer on low, covered for about 20 min. Cool until comfortable and pour into a basin big enough for both feet. Soak feet for at least 10-15 minutes.
Happy Feet Salve:
Fill a clean, dry jar with 1 part marshmallow root, 3 parts rosemary, 1 part calendula, and 2 parts yarrow, loosely packed. Then fill the jar half way with a combination of sunflower oil, olive oil (about 1/3-1/4 of the blend), avocado oil (no more than 10%–I usually add a tablespoon or two to a quart jar), and a similar amount of lanolin. Infuse. Strain infused oil and add beeswax to desired salve consistency in a double boiler.
Grind equal parts lavender flowers and calendula into a powder and add to a combination of cornstarch and arrowroot powder. Consider adding a tablespoon of baking soda, or cutting in a couple of drops of tea tree oil. Sprinkle in shoes or on feet to absorb extra moisture.