For people with constant foot pain, you’ve probably been told to wear better shoes. But the reality is, that might not be the right solution for your problem. You see, while wearing correctly fitting shoes is vital, it may not be the right cause of your foot pain. Inflammation contributes to, if not entirely causes, many foot issues like plantar fasciitis, metatarsalgia or athlete’s foot. Unfortunately, many of us have a lifestyle and diet that increases inflammation in our body, which creates and worsens persistent feet issues.
In this article we’re going to explain the basics of inflammation: what it is, where it comes from, and what you can do about it. This will help you improve your foot wellness and heal your body.
What is inflammation?
Inflammation is the body’s immune response to harmful stimuli, like pathogens, toxins or damaged cells. When inflammation happens, neutrophils from white blood cells move into the area with the harmful stimuli - soft tissue of joints or internal organs – as an attempt to remove the harm and heal the body. This process can cause swelling, redness or tenderness in the area, by increasing the flood flow to the area in need.
This is your body’s genius way of keeping you healthy. But unfortunately, it’s not always a perfect process. Studies have shown that inflammation can be triggered without the presence of a harmful stimuli, in autoimmune disorders, or due to poor diet or lifestyle triggers. While most inflammation is acute, this type of inflammation is typically chronic and persistent.
What are the symptoms of inflammation?
When inflammation is contained to one area of the body like after an injury, the injury site will be red, warm, swollen, and painful, and you may have a loss of function. This is known in medicine as the five cardinal signs of inflammation.
For example, if you sprain your feet during a sport, you may be unable to walk on it and it will be visibly larger. These signs are all visible, but not all inflammation is. In fact, according to some researchers, many of us have undetectable low-grade inflammation.
Aside from swelling and obvious signs of acute inflammation, lesser-known symptoms of chronic inflammation may include:
- Mood disorders like depression and anxiety
- Gastrointestinal issues like constipation and bloating
- Frequent infections
- Weight gain
- Skin conditions like acne or eczema
What causes inflammation?
Unless you have an autoimmune disease like rheumatoid arthritis or inflammatory bowel disease, inflammation doesn’t just happen out of nowhere. It’s estimated that a large portion of inflammation is caused by lifestyle and dietary habits. In America today, 71.6 percent of the population are overweight or obese, which is a key indicator that we’re not eating a healthy diet or moving enough.
The standard American diet is defined as a high fat, high salt and high sugar diet. We’re living off processed food, and 37 percent of us regularly eat fast food. Plus, 60 percent of us don’t do enough exercise. Our diets and lack of exercise increase inflammation.
For example, some types of fat like omega-6s and trans fats trigger the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines; these types of fat are in a number of foods from salad dressings to coffee sweeteners. A sedentary lifestyle leads to visceral fat accumulation, which is linked to chronic inflammation by increasing senescent cells.
Other lifestyle habits like stress, a lack of sleep and smoking also contribute to levels of inflammation. A study published in 2012 found that when we are chronically stressed, we lose the ability to regulate our inflammatory response due to cortisol dysfunction.
How do you know if you have inflammation?
Aside from having an obvious injury that presents with the five cardinal signs, other symptoms, as mentioned above, may be less noticable. So how do you know if they are caused by inflammation or something else? You can ask yourself these two key questions:
- What are you eating?
Certain foods cause an inflammatory response, these include: refined carbohydrates, fried foods, processed meat and simple sugars like high fructose corn syrup. How many times a day/week do you consume these types of food?
- How much do you exercise?
If you have a sedentary job, you would have to workout for at least an hour a day, every day, to get enough movement in. Exercise prevents and eliminates inflammation even at the source. According to an article published in the journal Brain, exercising for only 20 minutes a day decreases key inflammatory biomarkers.
The relationship between foot pain and inflammation
The majority of foot conditions are caused by, or worsened by, inflammation. Whether foot pain is due to mechanical pain like overuse, wrong footwear, foot mechanics or arthritis, having low-grade inflammation in the body will worsen these conditions. But it’s a vicious circle, because inflammation causes foot pain, and foot pain causes inflammation.
Thus, if you are currently experiencing foot pain, it’s essential that you do what you can to treat it, rather than exacerbating it with your lifestyle habits. The solution can’t be just to treat the symptom (foot pain), you must also make an effort to heal the source (the inflammation).
What can you do to combat foot pain caused by inflammation?
Check out this article we wrote that covers how to reduce foot pain and swelling holistically, including to eat more antioxidants, cutting out inflammatory foods, drinking more water and other important and effective natural tips.
Most importantly, to treat inflammation and improve foot conditions, you need to improve your diet, sleep better, stress less, and exercise. This combination will help your body to regulate low-grade chronic inflammation, which may completely alleviate the foot condition you are experiencing.
Even if you have a specific injury and the inflammation is isolated to the injury site, it’s essential to commit to reducing inflammation to prevent it from becoming a persistent problem. To treat this kind of inflammation, practice the R.I.C.E method for treating injuries:
- R - rest
- I - ice
- C - compression
- E - elevation
This can help to reduce the inflammation and allow for recovery.
It’s a vicious circle when it comes to inflammation. If you are experiencing inflammation presenting as foot pain, it’s a sign that you need to support your body. Your foot pain may be caused by an injury or wearing poorly fitting shoes, but it also might be caused by a poor diet or chronic stress - either way, it’s your body’s signal that something needs attention, so listen to it!