Danger: 5 Surprising Ways You’re Putting Your Feet at Risk

Updated: Mar. 07, 2024

A renowned foot doctor who's the founder of three health-focused footwear brands reveals a few of the most pervasive foot problems he's seen in his years of practice.

Last month, I sat down with renowned podiatrist Phil Vasyli, founder of the Vasyli Think Tank, Vionic, Orthaheel and Dr. Weil Integrative Footwear. I knew pounding up 27 flights of stairs (my idea of exercise on days when I can’t get to the gym) couldn’t be good for my feet, but I was shocked to learn that these seemingly harmless behaviors, along with lifestyle factors, can wreak havoc on your hooves as well.

1. Walking barefoot on a hard, flat surface (like the floors in your home), especially first thing in the morning.
Our feet are designed to walk on soft, natural, undulating surfaces. Walking between 5,000 to 10,000 steps a day on flat surfaces causes unnatural stress on foot structures. “Our footprint allows the natural ground to accommodate the contours of our feet,” Vasyli says. “The softer ground gives way to our heel at foot strike, allowing the outside of the foot to sink into the surface, which correspondingly supports the inside of our foot and the collapse of our arch.” Bottom line: socks aren’t enough.  To help prevent and relieve common aches, like heel pain, and even knee pain, try orthotics inserts or Orthaheel technology which helps you get back your footprint so our feet can function as they were intended.

2. Wearing ballet flats and regular flip flops.

These flat, non-supportive “spongy” or soft footwear are bad news. “Contrary to common belief, shock absorption is not the answer to conditions associated with misalignment of the feet and lower limbs,” says Vasyli. “Sure, they feel comfortable but soft, flat foot beds allow the feet to over-pronate – roll inwards beyond normal ranges of motion (that means you’re pushing off almost completely from the big toe). Conditions associated with over-pronation range include heel pain, plantar Fasciitis (pain and inflammation in your feet), knee pain, shin splints, Achilles Tendonitis, lower back pain and more.” The ballet flats might look stylish, but wearing supportive footwear is key for alleviating pain.

3. Not stretching your calves properly (or at all!)

Nip foot and lower leg pain in the bud by stretching your calf muscles. If you look carefully, you’ll notice that even unfit and overweight people have fit-looking calves because these muscles do so much work. Try this simple routine tweak from Dr.Vasyli: Each time you walk up a staircase, pause on the first step and stretch each of your calves down for 30 seconds.

4. Becoming more active than usual; whether abruptly or over time.

When beginning or intensifying a fitness routine, start from the ground up and make sure your sneakers offer enough support to keep your feet healthy as you “jumping jack”  your way towards your  wellness goals.

5. Being overweight, even just a little.

Research has shown that excess weight can raise the risk of not-so-fun conditions like tendon inflammation and osteoarthritis. “Simply by being overweight, you can put your feet at risk,” says Vasyli. “Just as intensifying activity can increase force on your feet, so can adding a large amount of weight, which puts additional stress on the foot with every step you take.” If you’re overweight, but concerned about getting moving, try starting with low-impact activities like swimming, water aerobics , the rowing machine or yoga.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest