Be Well: Foot Love

Be Well: Foot Love

Bethesda Podiatrist Paul Ross says we need to treat our feet better

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Bethesda podiatrist Paul Ross recently saw a new patient who said his feet had been hurting for two years and he was tired of it. “A lot of people come here thinking it’s normal that their feet should be sore at the end of the day. And I say, ‘No, it’s not normal—it means you’re having a problem,’ ” Ross says.

In addition to a classic case of flatfoot, the man had a plantar fascia problem—heel pain from inflamed tissue on the bottom of the foot—and an issue with his Achilles tendon, all from wear and tear. Ross told him he needed orthotics for his shoes. “I just saw him yesterday and he said, ‘I don’t know why I didn’t come to you sooner, because in 48 hours my pain was gone,’ ” says Ross, who’s practiced at the same Wisconsin Avenue location for 35 years and also has an office in Springfield, Virginia. “I hear that all the time.”

Ross, 61, has had issues with his own feet over the years. To keep them in good shape, he inspects them daily and opts for footwear that’s comfortable, supportive and fits well with his orthotics. Rather than wearing the same shoes every day, he rotates three or four pairs, including custom-made brown leather slip-ons. He won’t wear flimsy flexible shoes, such as thin flip-flops, unless he’ll only be walking around for five or 10 minutes.

A native of New York state who learned about the profession from his two brothers, both podiatrists, Ross sees patients of all ages—about 30 percent male and 70 percent female, a breakdown he attributes to women wearing shoes with higher heels. He tells patients to think of 3-inch stilettos as “limousine shoes,” to be worn from the house to the limo and into dinner. “You’re not really walking in them, you’re just showing them,” he says. “You have one pair of feet, and they have to last a lifetime.”

In his own words…

Meet your feet

“Everybody should look at their feet on a daily basis. Do you see any friction spots, irritation spots, something that doesn’t look like you saw it before? You look at your face every day so you see—hey, what’s that spot on my face? We never look at our feet.”

Home treatment

“Good hygiene is important. You want to be sure that you apply some type of cream on a daily basis. If you can’t get down to massage it in, then I would just want you to take a ball—tennis ball, golf ball—and just roll your foot over it just to get some deep massage into your foot, which also increases circulation into the area. Stretching of calves always helps the foot, as well. If you’re hurting on a daily basis, soak your feet in warm water and add some salt.”

Tough terrain

“Our problem isn’t our feet. Our problem is the surface that we’re asking them to walk on. I always tell everybody, ‘If I could wrap your feet with some leather straps and [say] let’s all go live in the forest, I [would] have to find something else to do.’ ”

Support system

“I always think of the foot as the square peg, and the ground being the round hole. It just doesn’t fit properly. An insert inside the shoe is going to redistribute the weight more evenly on the bottom of the foot to allow that foot to function better. Just because you don’t have a symptom doesn’t mean you’re not gonna benefit by having something inside your shoe. And it doesn’t have to be something that we make. It can be a Dr. Scholl’s over-the-counter—just some gentle support.”

On the surface

“The general population that doesn’t have any foot problems, you’re probably OK to go barefoot at home. If you’re home and you’re on your feet five or six hours on the hardwood floor, probably not the best idea. If you’re in your kitchen and it’s a tile or marble kind of thing and you’re standing cooking, it’s probably not great barefoot. But if you have carpet, that’s great—softer, more shock-absorbing surfaces.”

A good inve$tment

“It’s worth it to pay more for better shoes. That doesn’t mean you have to pay more because they’re designer. It means you’re paying more for structure and material. It’s especially worth it for athletic shoes. Usually shoe manufacturers have a lower-end and a higher-end brand or model. And that’s not just because they’re different colors—it’s because the materials are different, the structure is more high-tech.” 

Associate Editor Kathleen Seiler Neary can be reached at | Photo by Liz Lynch

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