Margaret van den Bergh: Graceful Health: Having happy feet

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Are your feet happy?

Our feet hit the ground first every morning. They are so important to everything we do, but it is easy to ignore them. Many times we cram them into shoes that don't even resemble the shape of a foot, or walk in heels that change everything about our gait. We stand on them all day long, and we carry heavy loads that add to the body weight our feet are already carrying.

The amount of force every time your heel strikes the ground can be 2.5 times your body weight and 3.5 times when running. Multiply all that force with the amount of steps that you take in a typical day, and you can begin to imagine how tough our little feet need to be to handle all that abuse. Our feet were initially designed to be barefoot and to be on softer surfaces than what modern life throws at us.

Medical issues can complicate how our feet function. Obesity, diabetes, injuries, loss of sensation, and poor circulation are just a few problems that factor into the health and function of our feet.

How the foot hits the ground is an incredibly complicated action. Each foot has 26 bones, 33 joints, and numerous muscles, tendons, and ligaments supporting and acting upon this structure. What is happening above the foot also needs to be taken into consideration. How well aligned are our ankles, knees, and hips? How strong and flexible are the muscles that act upon the leg?

When something goes wrong with all of these various parts, foot pain can occur. If foot pain is chronic, impacting your life and limiting what you can do, you may benefit from a custom orthotics consultation.

Orthotics are loosely defined as an external device or support to correct an orthopedic problem. Think of them as a sort of exoskeleton for certain parts of your body. Custom orthotics for your feet are designed and formed to address a specific person's foot, as opposed to over-the-counter options that try to fit the average foot type. These work for some people, but others need something designed especially for their own feet.

Grace Cottage Hospital's Rehabilitation Services Department offers orthotics consultations. Custom molded orthotics can be obtained by first speaking with your doctor about getting a referral. The next step is to visit with the physical therapist to discuss your medical issues, lifestyle, and foot problems. Next, the therapist will conduct a specific foot evaluation, which will include looking at your posture, gait, flexibility, and foot condition. A plaster cast of your foot in the corrected position will be made, along with a written prescription of your needs. This will all be sent to an orthotics lab for the construction of the device. We also will try to advise you in proper shoe wear that may help your condition.

Your visit for the evaluation is generally covered by most insurances (be sure to verify this coverage with your own insurance), but the orthotics themselves are not covered. They are reasonably priced. Please call to find out the price range of these.

To learn more about these services at Grace Cottage Rehabilitation Services Department, call 802-365-3637.

Margaret van den Bergh, P.T., earned her degree in physical therapy from the University of Vermont and has over 25 years of experience in the field of foot orthotics and over 40 years as a therapist. She joined Grace Cottage in 2017.

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