Dear Readers, ever since I was a little girl, I have been aware that my feet are not ‘normal’. For a start, they are large: I was a size 8 when I was about nine years old, and Dad used to joke with the assistants in the shoe shop, saying they should just give me the shoeboxes to wear rather than trying to find shoes that fit.

Then, there was the fact that I had fallen arches – flat feet to you and me. I forget who first referred to my feet as ‘flippers’ but the name stuck. At sixteen years old, in yet another shoe shop, the owner, a man of doubtful hygiene and a likely foot fetish, told me that I had ‘ugly’ feet, and practically threw a pair of black lace-ups at me. In the end, I bought a pair of black and red platform shoes from another shop (Dolcis if my memory serves me), and wore them with pride even though, with my skinny legs, I was told that they made me look like Minnie Mouse.

At some point during all this, I was referred to the podiatry clinic at the local hospital, where a lovely young woman gave me exercises to do to strengthen my arches. They involved revolving my feet around, clockwise and counterclockwise, bending my foot up and down, and even trying to write my name on a piece of paper with a biro tucked between my toes. I idolised the person who was trying to help make my feet more flexible, less of a liability, but at some point she moved on, and I stopped doing the exercises.

It didn’t really help that I also had very flexible joints. You’d think this was a boon, but in fact I tore ligaments and sprained my ankles at least half a dozen times in before I was thirty, sometimes so badly that I was bruised and swollen for days. All too often I would leap into the air while playing badminton like some humanoid gazelle, only to come crashing down like a sack of potatoes when my ankle went from under me. These days, I seem to be capable of tripping over a displaced molecule on a path, a millimetre-deep incline on a pavement. My husband is used to me chatting away and then suddenly disappearing as if poleaxed.

For a while, I had plantar fasciitis, which I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy (if I had one). The membrane on the sole of the foot becomes inflamed, so that every step is agony. It went on and on, and then, suddenly, it went away, and I was heartily glad to see the back of it.

And then, during lockdown, I noticed that my feet were becoming numb and sometimes tingled, especially at night. This raised real alarm bells, because my poor mother had untreated peripheral neuropathy in her feet for almost twelve years before she was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. I tried to ignore what was going on, but I could hear her voice in my head, as clear as day.

“It feels as if I’ve got a block of wood under my toes”, she’d say. “I wish I’d gone to the doctor before it got so bad”.

And so last week I had a whole range of blood tests at Whittington hospital. And on Friday I got the results.

“All normal!” said the receptionist. “No action needed!”

And I could have kissed her, because I was already reading articles about blood sugar and neuropathy management, and was wondering if a more extreme version of the intermittent fasting that I’m already doing (5:2 in case you’re interested) would help.

Instead, it feels like a reprieve, but it does mean that the cause of the numbness is probably structural, and so I need to find myself a podiatrist. Wouldn’t it be funny if I ended up doing the exercises from my youth again? I’m already working with the people that I do pilates with to get some more movement into my feet, and some strength into my ankles, but let’s see what else comes up.

I am also reminded that my Mum, in spite of her foot problems, became a qualified reflexologist when she was in her sixties. She had a terror of exams, but managed to get through them, and practiced for a decade before the neuropathy that had made walking so difficult started to take the sensitivity from her hands too. I remember her saying that so many people seemed to be repulsed by feet, and yet they were key to everything, not only our physical stability and wellbeing but our mental health too. They literally ‘ground’ us, and yet we ignore them and mistreat them. I hope that I am finally listening to my poor, unloved, derided feet, and can give them the care and attention that they deserve.

So, lovelies, do any of you have foot problems? I’m all ears if you have any suggestions or insights, or any stories to tell. Over to you!

10 thoughts on “Flippers

  1. Emily B

    Oh I am so sorry that you have such problems with your feet. As it happens I’m a podiatrist (NHS) and I see this all the time. Very flexible joints can lead to all kinds of problems. Strengthening is the key. And really good supportive shoes with laces and a relatively stiff sole. Can I suggest looking at You tube videos by Tom Morrison ( simplistic mobility method) – there is a really great one for foot and ankle strengthening. Be cautious about private podiatrists – some of them IMO don’t provide value for money when it comes to insoles etc.. Good Luck!

    1. Bug Woman Post author

      Emily, that’s wonderful information, thank you. Apparently my local hospital (the Whittington) allows people to self-refer, so I might try that, but in the meantime I shall definitely look at the videos. I agree re the private podiatrists, finding a good one is something of a lottery for sure…

  2. Anne

    I agree with you about plantar fasciitis, which I am plagued with from time to time. I am glad you received a clean bill of health. Having returned with one from my GP this morning I too am feeling more benign towards the world – osteoarthritis notwithstanding 🙂

  3. Ann Bronkhorst

    You are joining a large club! No comfort in that, except for the good advice eg from Emily B and the sympathy vibes that should be winging your way.
    Great that it’s not diabetes.

    1. Bug Woman Post author

      Yep, there are definitely lots of us out there, all hobbling around and not making a fuss (well, unless you include a blog of course 🙂 )

  4. Claire

    Sorry that you are having feet troubles… Hope you get better.
    I have been wearing orthopedic soles for years now, especially as my job involved continuous standing and that seemed to make my back worse( and sciatica). I can’t stand on tiptoes on one side and I used to stumble quite often. The soles are helping me.
    Thank you for the videos!

  5. Liz Norbury

    I’m glad to hear that your blood tests were normal – I’m not surprised that you almost felt like kissing the receptionist! My dad had flat feet, and as a child he was given exercises to do which were probably much the same as the ones you were given at a similar age. I certainly remember Dad continuing to do these exercises every morning and night until he was in his 90s, by which time he needed a stick, but was still able to walk with his customary bounce. So it’s probably a good idea for you to bend and revolve your feet on a daily basis! I inherited my mum’s feet – wide with high insteps – so I have the opposite problem to you: I struggle to squash my feet into high-heeled shoes (which I don’t often do) and winter boots.

    1. Bug Woman Post author

      I wonder how many people have the perfectly ‘normal’ feet that shoes seem to be designed for? I think that most of the time I’ve ‘made do’, with shoes that didn’t cause me actual pain, but didn’t really fit either, and now it’s all coming home to roost…


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