In a normal day, each of your feet will hit the ground about 5,000 times. No matter what your weight, the cumulative impact on your feet is several hundred tons. And if you run or jump, that impact is tripled. During your lifetime, your tootsies will carry you about 150,000 miles – the equivalent of more than four trips around the world.

So it’s no surprise that the vast majority of adults complain of foot problems. It’s a minor miracle that these wondrous workhorses we call feet endure their lifetimes of pounding and punishment, especially in the less-than-perfect shoes we often wear.

Let’s Deal With The Obvious First

The first thing people think of when their feet hurt is that their shoes are uncomfortable, or poor fitting. And indeed, this is often the case. Some surveys indicate that up to 60 percent of women wear spiked heels, which is an amazing fact since these shoes were never meant to be comfortable. High heels are designed to shift the body’s weight to the front of the foot, where the toes are crammed into the tiny toe box. The toes, foot bones, ligaments and muscles are squeezed so tightly that circulation is restricted and pain is inevitable. The shoe’s height and its unstable spiked heel stress the muscles and tendons of the foot and can cause multiple injuries. That pain you’re feeling is your feet telling you that they hate being tortured.

And then there is the shoe fit. More than half of all American women, for example, wear shoes that are at least one size too small, says Dean Wakefield, director of public affairs at the American Podiatric Medical Association in Bethesda, Maryland. Why would women wear shoes that don’t fit?   Well, many women believe that big feet are unattractive and unfeminine, so they wear shoes that are smaller than their actual foot size. The result, of course, is pain and potentially long-term foot problems.

So rule number one: if your feet hurt, ditch the stilettos and the tiny shoes, and buy shoes that fit.  Okay, enough with the obvious.

It’s Not The Shoes!

It’s fun to make a study of feet, not just the feet of the young, but of people of all ages. Not everyone who is 50 and older has bad feet. On the contrary, many people in their 50s, 60s, and 70s have feet that are still relatively strong, flexible, and still maintain their natural shape. Others have feet that are as misshapen as a soft pretzel. Some toes curl inward, others turn out, or overlap over other toes. Large bunions appear on the inner edge of the foot, below the big toe. Smaller ones appear on the tops of the toes. Calluses grow on the heels or just below the toes. Veins become necrotic. Feet change color. They get stiff and inflexible. They get sore, tired, and weak.

Why do some people have healthy feet while others have feet that are not so health? 

Our symptomatic, not to mention superficial, way of thinking immediately looks to external causes – the shoes and the care one has given one’s feet. But is the indoctrinated mind so inflexible as to insist that everyone who has misshapen feet either spent their lives in bad shoes, or didn’t know how to take care of their feet?   Do the shoes explain all the bunions, calluses, and misshapen feet?  Not by a long shot.

In fact, medical science still cannot tell us why the little toe (pinky toe) might overlap onto the fourth toe; or the big toe might slip under, or over the second toe; or why a bunion appears on the inside of the foot on some people and not on others; or why the toes of some become inflexible and hooked. It’s a mystery that the shoes alone simply do not explain.

But if we look a little deeper, and acknowledge that the feet – like the rest of the body – are maintained by an underlying life force, or what the Chinese called chi, or Qi – than we begin to understand why the feet of some people are healthy, while others are anything but.

The Life Force And The Feet

The human body is traversed by what can be seen as railroad lines of meridians, or pathways of energy. Fourteen of them, to be exact. These meridians have been studied by scientists and published in peer review journals for decades. These meridians, scientists have shown, are pathways for direct current that can be measured with sensitive electrical equipment. When an acupuncture point is stimulated by, say, a needle or finger pressure, it sends an electrical current along a precise pathway, or meridian.

In his book Cross Currents: The Perils of Electropollution; The Promise of Electromedicine, Robert O. Becker, M.D. former surgeon and professor of medicine at State University of New York at Buffalo, states that, “We found that about 25 percent of the acupuncture points on the human forearm did exist, in that they had specific, reproducible, and significant electrical parameters and could be found in all subjects tested. Next, we looked at the meridians that seemed to connect these points. We found that these meridians had the electrical characteristics of transmission lines, while non-meridian skin did not. We concluded that the acupuncture system is really there, and that it most likely operates electrically,” wrote Becker.

Becker also showed that health and healing are dependent upon electromagnetic energy.  Illness, he found, occurs when there is a diminution of electricity in the system. Any reduction in the overall flow of electromagnetic energy in the system makes it vulnerable to disease. The body responds to illness by attempting to increase electrical energy throughout the system, thus stimulating the immune system and blood cleansing organs.

Becker found that numerous tools can be used to boost electrical charge throughout the system, and thus promote healing.  Among them are acupuncture, diet, herbs, homeopathy, massage, visualization, and placebo. These methods restore health in many ways, to be sure, but they appear to have a distinct impact on the body’s electrical system, which may, in the end, be one of the keys to good health, if not the basis for it.

All of which brings us back to the feet. The feet are a veritable train yard of meridians, or pathways of energy, that course through the body and provide Qi, chi, or life force to every cell, bone, ligament, and organ. Many of those meridians either start in the feet and toes, or terminate in them.

Specifically, the meridians that run through the feet are the liver, spleen, kidney, stomach, gall bladder, and bladder. (The meridians are by-lateral, meaning they are identical in each foot and on each side of the body.) The meridians that correspond with each toe are as follows:

  • The big toe houses the liver and spleen meridians.
  • The second toe, the stomach meridian.
  • The third toe also has a second branch of the stomach meridian running through it.
  • The fourth toe is imbued with the gall bladder meridian.
  • The fifth, or pinky toe, contains the bladder meridian.

That isn’t all, however. At the bottom of the foot, in the middle, but just below the ball, is the opening of the kidney meridian, or kidney point 1. The meridian runs from the bottom of the foot, through the arch, along the inside of the ankle, and up the leg.   

That big mound at the lateral base of the big toe, where people frequently have large bunions, is the pathway for the spleen meridian.

And the heel of the foot is traversed on the inside by the kidney meridian and on the outside by the bladder meridian. In Chinese medicine, the kidneys and bladder nourish, or support, the reproductive organs.

Chinese medicine teaches that unless the sufficient chi flows along these meridians, the tissues, bones, and ligaments of the feet cannot maintain their integrity. As chi, or life force, is diminished along the meridian, specific parts of the feet will become weak and deformed. If the chi is diminished over time, the toes will not be able to remain straight and flexible; the tissue will not be able to sustain its health. With diminished chi, stagnation takes place within the organ. The body will attempt to discharge, or rid itself of, the accumulating waste within the organ. The body will push that waste out along the meridian line, until it winds up accumulating on one or another part of the body. Very often, that termination point for waste is the feet.

Meridians tell us not only why problems may be arising in one or another place on the feet, but how they can be remedied.

Here are some of the meanings of specific problems on the feet.

The Map Of Foot Problems

Let’s start with that bunion on the inside of the foot and work out way across the toes.

A Bunion on the Side of the Foot

The bunion indicates a diminution of chi flowing along the spleen meridian. The spleen is injured by excess consumption of sugar, processed foods, and sweet dairy products. When we’ve drunk too much milk, eaten too much sugar, cheese, and pastries, and had too much ice cream, the spleen grows tired and ultimately stagnates, and a bunion appears at the side of the foot, lateral of the ball of the foot.

All of this indicates a weakened spleen. The Chinese healers say that as the spleen weakens, we become increasingly single-minded, narrow in our point of view, and stubborn. Hence, the Chinese maintained that if you have a bunion in this place, be careful of being stubborn.

What to Do: 

  • Avoid the offending foods and eat the following regularly.
  • Miso soup
  • Millet
  • Round and sweet vegetables, such as squash, onion, rutabaga, turnips, radishes, and sweet potato.
  • Green and leafy vegetables.
  • Daikon radish, which, along with red radish, will break up deposits and increase flow along the meridian.
  • Increase exercise.
  • Get acupuncture and/or regular massage (shiatsu or acupressure) to strengthen the spleen and spleen meridian.
  • Try to identify with the point of view of others.

A Bunion or Callus on the Second or Third Toe

When there is a bunion or callus on the second or third toe, it means that stomach energy is deficient. A person with deficient stomach energy more easily loses his or her center in times of strong emotion, for example, when having to  speak publicly.

The remedies for strengthening the stomach would be the same ones that are good for the spleen.

When the Big Toe Curls Over the Second Toe

When the big toe curls inward, and overlaps the second toe, the liver is over-active and suppressing the stomach and spleen. The cause is an excessive as a result of too many animal foods and an underlying pressure to control situations in order to feel safe. The person can become aggressive, stubborn, and unwilling to compromise. The liver is obviously suffering.

What to Do:

  • Reduce animal foods, especially red meat, cheese, and eggs.
  • Minimize anger and frustration by expressing your truth gently and under safe conditions, such as speaking to a counselor, writing in a journal, and sharing your feelings with those who love you.

Increase the following foods:

  • Green and leafy vegetables, 3 or 4 times a day, if possible.
  • Brown rice vinegar, lemon, and sauerkraut.
  • Barley.
  • Udon noodles.
  • Shiitake mushrooms, such as in soup and vegetable medleys.

When the Big Toe Curls Under the Second Toe

When the big toe tucks under the second toe, the liver is deficient, or underactive, and one has the tendency to hide one’s truth. You may experience a lot of fear about expressing what you feel, especially when someone else wants the opposite of what you may want. You may be too much of a pleaser. This may seem like the easiest way to get through the day, but you may be suppressing a lot of your own feelings and your own truth. People also may be taking advantage of your sweet disposition and you may be secretly, or not so secretly, angry about that.   
What to do:

Find safe ways to explore your feelings and inner world. In the presence of a counselor, or by writing in a journal, express what you want,  Express, as well, the situations that you may be frustrated with, or angry about. Also, find some form of exercise that you enjoy doing, one that allows you to experience more of your power.  

Get more care, especially massage and acupuncture.

Foods to eat:

  • Green and leafy vegetables, 3 or 4 times a day, if possible.
  • Brown rice vinegar, lemon, and sauerkraut.
  • Barley
  • Udon noodles.
  • Shiitake mushrooms, such as in soup and vegetable medleys.
  • More animal foods, especially white fish.

Bunions on the Fourth Toe

The gall bladder is weak and overworked as a consequence of eating too many fried foods, too much oily foods, and too much animal food. There may be significant amounts of frustration in your life and you may have great difficulty making decisions. The gall bladder needs support and healing.

What to do:

Do all you can to control and reduce your anger and frustration. Find ways to express anger in a safe and gentle way. Seek out a counselor to work with issues of frustration or anger, even if you are not in the habit of expressing your anger. Do all you can to experience more compassion for yourself and those you love.

Dietary Recommendations:

  • Stop all fried foods and all foods that contain any processed oils.
  • Stop all red meat, eggs, and dairy products. Eat only low fat white fish, and then only two or three times a week.

Eat the following:

  • Radishes, including red and diakon radish.
  • Apples, both red and green
  • Green and leafy vegetables, at least three or four servings per day.
  • Sauerkraut, lemon in water, and brown rice vinegar.
  • Barley, millet, brown rice, and other whole grains.
  • Sweet and round vegetables (see above)
  • Miso soup, with wakame, and round, green, and root vegetables.
  • Reduce or eliminate nuts, at least until the gall bladder is healed and the bunion goes away.
  • Reduce the amount of food you are eating.

When the Little Toe Overlaps

The bladder is overactive from drinking too many soft drinks, alcohol, eating too much salt, or too much oil. The reproductive organs are congested, and circulation in the pelvis may be diminished.

What to do:

  • Exercise more. Take walks, move your pelvis, and stretch the muscles in your hips, buttocks, and hamstrings.
  • Get massage regularly, along with acupuncture.

Dietary Recommendations:

  • Reduce salt.
  • Reduce processed foods, especially those that contain salt.
  • Reduce oil and processed foods that contain oil.
  • Eat beans daily.
  • Eat sea vegetables daily.
  • Eat miso soup
  • Eat burdock root and other root vegetables.
  • Eat daikon and red radish.

When Calluses Appear on the Heal of the Foot.

Calluses are broader patches of dead skin, usually located at the bottom of the foot and along the heel. Build up of calluses in the heel means that the kidney, bladder, and reproductive organs are stagnant and discharging waste, especially mucous, animal fats, hard cheeses, and poor quality oils.

Rub them away from the underlying skin by using a pumice stone or callus file.  It may require several such treatments, but don’t become so zealous that you rub the skin raw.

Get massage and acupuncture, which will help unblock the kidney and bladder meridians. Exercise daily by taking walks. Soak your feet and get foot massage.

Meantime, stop all dairy products, red meat, and reduce eggs. Avoid processed foods with oils and salt and then eat the following foods.

  • Beans daily.
  • Green and leafy vegetables, three or four time a week.
  • Radishes, both daikon and red. (These foods dissolve blockages.)
  • Shiitake mushrooms. (They dissolve blockages.)
  • Soba noodles, barley, millet, and brown rice.
  • Sea vegetables daily.

TLC For Your Feet

We all need a little extra love from time to time, and our feet are no different. Here are some ways to treat them right.

Raise your feet. Whenever possible, elevate your feet and wiggle your toes to improve circulation and relax the muscles.

Get regular reflexology and foot massages. Swap massages with a friend. Massage the whole foot while rotating your thumbs to promote circulation and relieve tense spots. Slide your thumb deeply along the arches. Use soothing oils occasionally.

Soak your feet several times a week. Soak your feet in warm water mineral salts for 15 to 20 minutes, which will revitalize the feet and entire body.

Another way to improve circulation to the feet is by doing a hydrotherapy treatment. Fill a bucket or pot (large enough to put both feet in) with ice water, while filling the bathtub with hot water. There should be enough water in both places to at least cover your ankles. The water in the tub should be as hot as you can stand it, but please do not burn your skin. Soak your feet in the hot water for three minutes, then plunge them into the ice water for twelve seconds. Then return to the hot water for three minutes, and back to the ice water for twelve seconds. Do this back and forth for fifteen minutes, ending in the ice water. Dry your feet thoroughly and put on a pair of warm socks. Your feet will love you for this.

Your feet are a reflection of your overall health. The more stagnation in your system, the greater the likelihood of having foot problems. Eat well, exercise, and take care of your inner, emotional life and your feet will take good care of you.