No mean

20th April 2007 at 01:00
You squeeze them into uncomfortable shoes and stand on them all day. Your feet deserve better treatment. Steven Hastings will keep you on your toes

It's not just dancers and runners who need to look after their feet.

Standing at the front of a classroom, trudging through long corridors and lurking in the dinner queue all take a toll. Busy teachers can walk five miles or more in a normal day. Add in hard floors or ill-fitting shoes and it's a sure recipe for sore feet.

A quarter of the body's bones are in the feet and even though many of them are tiny, they have plenty of weight to support. Teachers are among high-risk workers who pile on the pressure with long periods of standing, says Anne McLean, spokeswoman for the Society of Chiropodists and Podiatrists.

"PE teachers are out in all weathers; while working in a hot classroom can make feet sweat and swell. Crouching down to low desks puts stress on the toes. There's no respite."

Most of us neglect our feet. A soak in the bath or a coat of nail varnish before a holiday is probably all the attention they get. But they deserve more.

Like cars, feet benefit from regular servicing - and the more miles you put in, the more important it is to keep them in tip-top form.

"We should be aware of our feet," says Anne. "Getting them checked out should become routine, like going to the dentist."

Poor foot care can cause anything from cracked heels, blisters and corns to deformed toes. And after a day in the classroom, general soreness and swelling is common. "It goes with the job," says Jane Phillips, special needs co-ordinator at Lindfield Primary in West Sussex. "My feet get very hot and stingy. I get tender joints and the balls of my feet are sore. I know I should sit down but it just doesn't happen. I'm sure it can't be doing me any good."

It's the long-term consequences that can be most worrying. Pain in the knees and back, alongside spinal and postural problems, can often be traced back to the feet, while wearing high heels can cause permanent shortening of the calf muscles.

"Conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and diabetes can show in the feet - they can be picked up by a good podiatrist or chiropodist," says Anne.

So if you want to get in step with finer feet what's the first move? Shoes.

"Teachers need educating about what's wrong with their footwear," Anne says. Flat is best. High heels and a tight fit should be saved for weekends. But if you can't resist a touch of glamour, avoid anything with a heel over four centimetres and make sure you stretch your heel and calf muscles. Ideally, you want comfortable shoes with a flexible sole and laces or straps.

Slip-ons might be easy but they let your feet slide around, pushing your toes forward and upsetting your natural alignment. It's best to alternate between at least two pairs of shoes so you're not in the same ones all the time. "I would love to wear smarter shoes but I know I can't," says Jane.

"Even with comfy shoes, I can't wait to get them off."

As compensation, she pampers herself in the holidays with massages or reflexology. But the occasional treat isn't enough. Pinching toes and swelling ankles can easily upset concentration and performance. And according to the professionals, it's best to take action before that stage.

"Don't wait until you're in pain to get help," warns Anne. "That's too late."

SIX TIPS FOR TOP TOES

Wash your feet every day in warm, soapy water and dry them thoroughly.

Be kind to them: moisturise and powder them and remove hard skin with a pumice stone.

Keep toenails trim. Cut them straight: cutting into the corner can encourage in-growing toenails.

Keep your feet warm.

Wear the right shoes.

Get regular checks from an accredited podiatrist or chiropodist.

www.feetforlife.org is the website of the Society of Chiropodists and Podiatrists

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