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Treat your feet right this summer

  • Story Highlights
  • 51 percent of women say they're willing to wear cute shoes that hurt
  • Exercise physiologist: Pain could be from a lack of strength in foot muscles
  • Foot massages improve circulation and can alleviate heel pain
  • Frequent exfoliating can prevent infections and pain from cracked calluses
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By Debra McClinton
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Real Simple

(Real Simple) -- Treat your feet well with these easy remedies and pampering tips

Summer shoes can lead to heel pain and foot cramps, but  a little pampering can help.

Summer shoes can lead to heel pain and foot cramps, but a little pampering can help.

Reviving your feet

Pretty summer shoes have their ugly side: heel pain and foot cramps.

But in a recent survey by the American Podiatric Medical Association, 51 percent of women said they were willing to wear those cute strappy sandals and slides no matter how much the shoes may hurt.

Fortunately for these hardy soles, simple remedies, such as massage and strengthening exercises, can give feet sweet relief.

Massage

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How it helps: "Like a deep-tissue massage anywhere on the body, kneading the feet will help relieve cramps, knotting, and tightness," explains podiatrist Marlene Reid.

Massage improves circulation and can alleviate heel pain caused by a tense or inflamed plantar fascia, the band of connective tissue that runs along the bottom of the foot to the heel. Real Simple: Summer skin care tips

How to do it:

• Coat your palms with a thin layer of lotion or balm infused with a circulation-boosting ingredient, such as peppermint, pine oil, camphor, or rosemary.

• Using long stroking motions, slowly massage the sole of one foot with both thumbs, starting behind the toes and moving toward the heel. Apply extra pressure along the arch and at the ball of the foot, two places that are especially prone to tightness.

• Grip the foot with both hands and gently twist your hands from side to side as if you're wringing a towel. "This may help remove the pain that can develop after hours of standing," says spa owner Barbara Close.

• End the massage by gently pulling and releasing each toe. Repeat on the other foot.

Real Simple product picks: L'Occitane Shea Butter Foot Cream, $25, Jurlique Uplifting Foot and Leg Lotion, $35

Strengthening exercises

How they help: "Oftentimes people have pain in their feet and ankles because they don't have sufficient coordination and strength in their feet," says exercise physiologist Mike Siemens.

But doing simple strengthening exercises every day, he says, can help enhance the neurological pathways between the brain and the muscles, reducing your likelihood of developing foot and ankle troubles. That means less pain in your arches and legs, too.

How to do it:

• You'll need a small towel and a wooden or tile floor. Stand barefoot on the floor and place the towel in front of you, with its edge underneath your toes.

• Scrunch up your toes to grip the towel, pulling it toward you, then release; repeat until most of the towel is bunched up under your toes.

• Then reverse the motion to push the towel away from you. "This provides excellent strengthening for the muscles on the underside of the foot, particularly those in the arch," says Siemens.

• Repeat the entire exercise. As your feet get stronger, you should be able to complete the sequence three or four times.

• Rolling your bare foot over a golf or tennis ball can also stretch and strengthen foot muscles while relieving tension. Real Simple: The best anti-aging treatments

Pampering your feet

Once you've worked out all the kinks, raise the relaxation level -- and get your feet looking fit for flip-flops -- with foot soaks, scrubs, and creams. Not only do they feel luxurious but their moisturizing and exfoliating ingredients can also help keep your feet healthy. Choose the right products by determining exactly what you need.

Soaks to soothe -- Feet swell throughout the day. To bring down the puffiness, Close recommends soaking feet in a mixture of water, a dozen ice cubes, six drops of tea-tree oil, and rosemary leaves (or use a store-bought tea tree--oil soak).

Submerge one foot for 30 seconds, remove from water, then rub vigorously with a towel. Repeat with the other foot, and keep soaking until the swelling subsides.

Real Simple product picks: Desert Essence Tea Tree Oil, $19.50, Earth Therapeutics Tea Tree Oil Foot Soak, $8

Soaks to smooth -- While all soaks help soften skin, certain ones also exfoliate dead skin cells, making feet smoother. "Both milk and fruit juices contain natural acids that gently dissolve dry, rough patches," says spa owner Donna Perillo. Using a soak that contains these ingredients can heighten the silkening effect.

Real Simple product picks: H2O+ Buttermilk Bath Soak, $20, Freeman Barefoot Softening Foot Soak, $4

Scrubs to soften -- Frequent exfoliating is not just about looking good. "Thickly callused skin can crack, leading to pain and infections," explains Reid.

Pumice-based pastes can swiftly eliminate scaly skin, keeping feet soft for longer. If you prefer scrubs, go for a salt scrub with added oils to help hydrate. Avoid razors and callus scrapers, which can break the skin and cause infection. And be sure to slough gently: Calluses actually protect the feet, so you don't want to strip them away entirely.

Real Simple product picks: Olay Thermal Pedicure Foot Treatment, $9, Kerasal Exfoliating Pumice-Paste, $6 Real Simple: Summer skin survival guide

Creams to hydrate -- "Foot creams are generally thicker and more viscous than body formulas because they're supposed to deliver more moisture," says cosmetics chemist Jim Hammer. The best ones hydrate and soften with petrolatum, glycerin, hyaluronic acid, and shea butter, so make sure one of these is at the top of the ingredient list.

Real Simple product picks: Neutrogena Cracked Heel Moisturizing Treatment, $6.50, ShiKai Borage Dry Skin Therapy, $10.50

Creams to remedy roughness -- If thick, scaly calluses are a persistent problem, podiatrist Jane Andersen recommends using a foot cream that contains exfoliating lactic acid, which dissolves dry patches while it hydrates. Lotions containing urea can also break down calluses and smooth hardened heels.

Real Simple product picks: DDF Pedi-Cream, $30, Barielle Total Foot Care Cream, $19.50

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