The American Podiatric Medical Association estimates that in just an average day of walking, several hundred tons of pressure are exerted upon your feet. Inflammation and pain in the feet can result from this continuous and excessive force. The University of Maryland Medical Center states that at least 75 percent of the U.S. population will experience foot pain at some time in their lives. Ill-fitting shoes, certain medical conditions (including diabetes, pregnancy and obesity), high-impact exercise, or a combination of any of these are the primary causes of foot pain. Knowing the source of your pain is the first step in treating it, as certain conditions, including fallen arches, broken bones, arthritis and gout, require medical help.
Cold therapy, known as cryotherapy, can reduce inflammation and pain. Edema, the medical term for swelling, occurs when excess liquid becomes trapped between the body’s cells. Cryotherapy reduces the flow of liquid to the area where it is applied and inhibits nerve cells’ ability to “fire” off pain signals. One method includes filling a sandwich bag with ice cubes, covering the affected area with a thin towel, and holding the bag to the feet for up to 20 minutes. If your skin begins to numb, remove the bag before the time completes.
This method adds the element of massage to cryotherapy. Massage increases blood flow, stimulates the nervous system and promotes relaxation. Fill a paper cup with water and place it in the freezer. Once the water has fully frozen, simply peel back the top of the cup until the top of the ice is revealed. Use this to massage over and around the tender and swollen areas of the foot. Take care not to press too deeply and keep the ice moving to avoid frostbite. Cold massage offers an inexpensive, easy fix, combines two recognized treatments for pain and swelling, and allows you to cover a larger surface area.
This method allows you to treat both feet at once and only requires a bucket or foot bath, water and ice. Fill the foot bath with enough water to cover both feet. Add ice and soak feet for up to 20 minutes. Once feet begin to feel numb, remove them from the bath.
The Arthritis Foundation recommends massage to relieve pain. Care should be taken not to massage areas inflamed as a result of injury, however. Inflammation that results from simply standing too long, wearing ill-fitting shoes or from high impact exercise can benefit from a foot massage. A small amount of lotion or massage oil should be applied when massaging feet to prevent dragging skin. Apply even pressure to the feet using your thumbs and knuckles. Again, this is an easy fix and can be self-applied. The Merck Manual especially recommends massage because, in addition to relieving pain and swelling, massage helps to loosen tight tissues.
The University of Maryland Medical Center recommends RICE for swollen feet that hurt. RICE, an acronym for Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation, addresses one of the causes of swollen feet, fluid buildup. Elevating the feet, even for short periods of time, allows the body to drain excess fluids from the area, thereby decreasing swelling and the attendant pain it causes.
As long as your feet are not injured, bruised or cut, moist heat can ease pain and tension. Simply wet two towels with warm water and wrap these around feet. The Arthritis Association notes that heat relaxes muscles and stimulates circulation. Care should be taken not to use water that is too hot as heat can increase swelling.
Katherine Mariaca is a professional freelance journalist who specializes in alternative and complementary medicine, and skin and body care treatments. A longtime spa director and VP of skin care companies, Mariaca developed products and services for the spa industry. She earned a B.S. from Tufts and an M.F.A. from Lesley.