'Tis the season for... the fearsome foot affliction (My feet are killing me!)

You've either said it or heard it hundreds of times. It's no surprise, especially this time of year as we traipse through an ever-quickening spiral of meetings, shopping and endless tasks hell-bent for the holidays. You can expect sore feet this time of year, but you can do something about it.

The human foot is amazing. Made up of 26 little bones held together by a network of ligaments and muscles, our feet literally carry us cradle to grave. But usually not without a little complaining - and often with good reason. We beat them relentlessly on concrete floors of offices, stores, streets. Worse, many of us are prone to stuffing our precious peds into those snazzy, trendy shoes that elicit compliments while inflicting pain.

Regardless, sooner or later you're likely to have hurting feet. For many of us the pain starts early - just when we're getting out of bed. Does that first step make you yelp? Then after you hobble around a bit, does the pain tend to ease up? If so, you likely have plantar fasciitis, a common inflammation of the foot's platform or sole. The pain is worst in the morning because the plantar fascia (sole) has been able to contract all night long. Then when you first step on it, it HURTS. The pain can be sharp and specific (like stepping on a tack) or aching/throbbing, and most often in the heel. Causes are inadequate flexibility in your calf muscles or lack of arch support. Other aggra-vators can be too much time on your feet, or being overweight. (Think of those tiny, hard-working bones bearing up under an extra wide load).

Here's how to keep your feet happy:

1. First thing every morning, stretch the foot sole and tendons by gently pulling back on your toes and holding for 30 seconds several times. Another helpful exercise is to stand on your toes on the edge of a stair. Rise up on your toes, then slowly lower yourself several times. You should feel a mild pull in your calves.

2. Use orthotic shoe inserts. The most effective ones cup the heel and give support. You can pay from around $4 for a pair of Dr. Scholl's, to upwards of $100 for custom-made ones. A favorite is Powerstep, recommended by Runners' World and Men's Health (approximately $30). It gives good support with a heel cradle and structure that stabilizes the foot and prevents it from rolling inward. It can also help with pain in ankles, knees, hips or even lower back.

3. After activities, use ice or a cold compress on your foot bottoms to soothe the pain-causing inflammation.

4. Try foot splints. Many people swear by these lightweight devices, wearing them for 30 minutes each evening. Others wear them to bed so their calf muscles will not contract during sleep. (Tight calf muscles are the main cause of morning heel pain.) You can get a foot splint at drugstores or order online for $60 to $75.

5. Get a foot massage. It not only stimulates circulation and loosens an uptight, complaining foot, but it feels heavenly. Happy feet can perk up your whole body. And rub in some Ibuprofen Cream to target specific pain. Cream won't irritate your stomach the way the pills can.

If your pain refuses to go away or is severe, better visit a podiatrist. Be good to your feet and they'll take you anywhere

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