Homer's Travels: In Search Of Happy Feet

Saturday, May 11, 2013

In Search Of Happy Feet

The Camino was hard on my body, especially the feet.  Everyone seems to have different issues.  Tendinitis. Toes blisters.  Heal blisters.  Blisters on the ball of your foot.  My issues have been tendinitis in my ankles, toe blisters, and pain/blisters on the balls of my feet.  I have been trying a few things since I got back to correct some of these issues before I go back for my second Camino.

The first thing I've tried to tackle is the tendinitis issue.  When I walked my 2011 Camino I wore a high-top walking shoe.  In Mansillas de las Mulas I was schooled my LA on how to tie my shoes.  It turned out that when I was walking on a flat  trail I was not supposed to use the top two hooks/holes of my shoes.  When I followed LA's advise, my ankle issues went away.

For my 2013 Camino I will be wearing a low-top version of the walking shoe I wore last time.  I hope that the low-top will be the same as not tying the top two hooks/holes and will reduce the chances of tendinitis.  I've also noticed the manufacturer, New Balance, has moved the top shoelace holes out a little bit so when you tie the shoe it feels less tight across the top of the shoe.  I think this will also reduce the tendinitis issues by reducing the pressure across the top/front of the ankle.  The one downside of this, I believe, is that the laces will loosen so I will have to stop to retie my shoes more often - a minor inconvenience if it prevents tendinitis.  Having said this, I've been wearing the shoes for over 300 miles now and shoelace loosening has not been a problem.

The second issue I'm working are toe blisters and a soft corn I have on my right foot (On the second toe facing the pinky).  The corn first developed during the last week or two on the 2011 Camino.  It became quite painful.  After I got home the corn didn't bother me because I didn't wear shoes all summer while driving Route 66.  Once I started wearing shoes and started walking again  it came back with a vengeance.  I treated the corn with over the counter corn remover that killed the skin and fixed the problem ... temporarily.  After a month or two the corn would return.

At the first Camino Conversation, the host suggested toe bandages as a way to fight toe blisters.  The toe bandages are foam tubes that you cut to length and slip over your toe.  At this point I'd tried other types of corn cushions with little or only temporary success.  I decided to give the tube bandages a chance.  So far after a couple of months they have worked very well.  The corn shows no evidence of returning.  I have also used them to protect and prevent blisters on other toes with mixed results.  I think my issue is that I'm cutting the tubes too short.  Over time they scrunch down a bit and leave the ends of the toe exposed to blisters and, in some cases, the edge of the bandage has rubbed on the adjacent toe causing irritation.  I think if I cut them longer, this will be less of a problem.  Either way, I have gotten some good results from the toe bandages and I will be packing them as part of my first aid kit.

The last issue was pain in the ball of my foot.  While the pain feels similar to a hot spot (the precursor to a blister) I think it may be caused by the pounding the balls of my feet receive when I walk.  At the end of the day when I take off my shoes the balls of my feet are so tender it is hard to walk.  After seeing a commercial for Dr. Scholl's foot products I looked to see if they had anything that I could add to cushion the front half of my feet.  I found Dr. Scholl's Pain Relief Orthotics for Ball of Foot.

Before I tried them I went to my Physical Therapist (PT) and asked him if the cushions would affect the correction of my custom orthotics.  After looking at them he said he didn't think so.  He looked a bit skeptical about the effectiveness of them and, frankly, I didn't expect much from them either.  I put them in and I went for a hike.  At first they felt like I had a rock in my shoes and they felt a bit uncomfortable but after a few miles the sensation went away.  I got home, took off my shoes, and to my surprise I had no pain in the ball of my feet whatsoever. The hot spot feeling I used to get was totally gone.  I was a little flabbergasted.  It's been three or four weeks since I've been wearing them (wearing them only when I hike)  and the results have been the same - no more pain.  That is, no more foot pain but I have developed knee pain.  I'm not sure if the two things are connected.  I know that it doesn't take much of a change in gait to change the entire dynamics of the leg but I am thinking it's just a coincidence.  Thinking back, I can't really remember if the knee pain started before or after I started using the cushions.

These Dr Scholl's cushions  are not the perfect solution.  They can be hard to place correctly in the shoe and have to be repositioned every time I put on my shoes since they will slip over time.   I am looking into other options.  My PT guy suggested it may be possible to modify my orthotics to add additional cushioning near the ball of my feet.  This sounds like a better solution and I hope it pans out.  I will keep you all posted.

So I have three potential solutions to the three big issues I had on the Camino.  The testing I have been doing doesn't come close to matching the real conditions of walking everyday on the Camino but, even if they only fix or diminish some of the problems I had, it will be an improvement.  At the risk of being overconfident  I think my next Camino will be better, foot-wise, and happy feet means a happy hiker.


  1. Anything that keeps you from hobbling to the finish is a good thing! It's smart of you to try out a bunch of different things before you fly off! :) I guess this time looking before leaping is a good thing!

    1. Miss McC: My thought exactly! I just hope that something I'm trying actually works.

  2. I've done so many different things over the years. The two-layer sock system does most of the work, but I've used band-aids and stuff on the toes from time to time. Hey, whatever works in a pinch.

    Just outta curiosity: do you know if anyone has done the Camino in something like the Vibram Five-Fingers? I've never tried them myself, but I know many people who swear by them for hiking. I've always been curious about them...

    1. GH: I've never tried the two sock method though I've heard a lot about it. I think if I can fix the ball of my foot problem once and for all then all I'll have left are little nuisance blisters.

      I've read about people doing the Camino with Vibram Five-Fingers (VFF). Like with most things, the jury is still out. Some people love them. Other people had terrible blister issues. Several took both VFF and boots and swapped out depending on the type of terrain (VFF do not protect well from rocks and they don't work well in wet, muddy situations apparently). One thing people do agree on is that they need to be broken in carefully so if you want to try them, take your time breaking them, and your feet, in properly.