Don’t ignore your feet: Why foot pain among young adults could signal bigger problems

For young adults, prioritising foot care and addressing emerging issues promptly is crucial.

15 Jun 2024 08:00am
For illustrative purposes - 123RF
For illustrative purposes - 123RF

While not every foot pain necessitates a visit to the doctor, persistent problems that interfere with daily activities should be evaluated by a healthcare professional.

Early intervention is key to preventing more serious health issues down the road, and this is especially true for foot health. For young adults, prioritising foot care and addressing emerging issues promptly is crucial.

Prince Court Medical Centre, Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon, Dr Rukmanikanthan Shanmugam emphasised that early intervention can help prevent more serious issues from developing in the future.

He also said that regularly inspecting one’s feet for any changes or abnormalities can also help catch potential problems early.

“When you have a problem with your foot, you tend to compensate for the pain or deformity by changing the way you walk. This alters the mechanics of your gait, leading to abnormal loading on your knees, hips and spine.

“Over time, this can cause pain, early degeneration, or new deformities elsewhere. Depending on the severity of the issues, even the posture can change,” he mentioned.

Dr Rukmanikanthan also highlighted that many patients with sports injuries like ankle sprains do not seek proper treatment and just manage with home remedies.

“This can lead to issues such as reduced range of movement, stiffness, altered proprioception (the sense of position of the joint) and muscle weakness. Without proper rehabilitation, this makes one prone to recurrent injuries.

“For trauma, if the pain does not subside after a few days, seems to worsen, or if you can not take at least four steps on the injured foot, seek medical attention.

“For chronic cases, if the pain does not go away after one or two weeks or if it becomes more severe, swollen, or red, you should see a doctor,” he added.

Dr Rukmanikanthan also noted that the most common issues relating to foot pains are plantar fasciitis, bunions, achilles tendon problems, ankle sprains and minor fractures.

He also said that general precautions for foot health include wearing proper footwear, being cautious of where you walk, and avoiding walking at night when it is dark.

Dr Rukmanikanthan Shanmugam
Dr Rukmanikanthan Shanmugam

“Diabetics should avoid walking barefoot to prevent injuries. Strengthening exercises and stretches for the calf muscles and the small muscles of the foot can also be beneficial.

“Wearing high heels forces the foot into an unnatural position, which can lead to issues such as forefoot pain, bunions, callosities and tendon contractures. It is advisable to wear high heels in moderation and avoid shoes with sharp, pointy ends.

“Being overweight also is a factor as it puts significant pressure on the joints, including the knees, ankles and hips, which can amplify existing problems and lead to further issues. This is a common occurrence not only in older adults but also in young adults.

“The excess weight increases the stress on the joints, potentially causing pain and injuries. Therefore, maintaining a healthy weight is important for overall joint health and can help prevent foot and ankle problems,” he added.

Dr Rukmanikanthan also pointed out that treatment options for foot and ankle pain in young adults depend on the specific problem.

“Generally, non-operative management is the first approach, which includes physiotherapy to improve strength and flexibility, painkillers to manage discomfort and rest to allow healing. In some cases, corticosteroid injections may be used to reduce inflammation and pain.

“Surgery is considered a last resort if these conservative measures do not provide sufficient relief or if the condition worsens,” he noted.

Dr Rukmanikanthan also offered his advice for young adults, especially those with desk jobs, who can manage discomfort by incorporating several lifestyle adjustments.

“Regular stretching of the calf muscles and strengthening the small muscles of the foot can help manage and prevent discomfort.

“Additionally, being mindful of maintaining proper posture while sitting and taking frequent breaks to stand up, move around, and stretch can alleviate tension and improve circulation.

“Using ergonomic furniture and setting up a workstation that promotes a healthy posture can also contribute to reducing discomfort associated with prolonged sitting,” he said.