Foot Health

Disease, years of wear and tear, ill-fitting or poorly designed shoes, poor circulation to the feet, or improperly trimmed toenails are just some of the things that cause so many common foot problems.

To prevent foot problems, check your feet regularly – or alternatively, have them checked by a member of the family -- and try to make sure that you practise good foot hygiene.

Preventing Foot Trouble

Improving the circulation of blood to the feet can help prevent problems. Exposure to cold temperatures or water, pressure from shoes, long periods of sitting, or smoking can reduce blood flow to the feet. Even sitting with your legs crossed or wearing tight, elastic garters or socks can affect circulation. On the other hand, raising the feet, standing up and stretching, walking, and other forms of exercise promote good circulation. Gentle massage and warm footbaths can also help increase the circulation to the feet.

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Wearing comfortable shoes that fit well can prevent many foot ailments. Foot width may increase with age. Always have your feet measured before buying shoes. The upper part of the shoes should be made of a soft, flexible material to match the shape of your foot. Shoes made of leather can reduce the possibility of skin irritations. Soles should provide solid footing and not be slippery. Thick soles lessen pressure when walking on hard surfaces. Low-heeled shoes are more comfortable, safer, and less damaging than high-heeled shoes.

Fit orthotic insoles to help support your feet where required and to provide extra comfort and relief from pain. A wide range of insoles is easily available from FootActive, to help deal with very differing foot problems for people of all ages, ranging from gait correction to flat feet.

Podiatrists and primary care physicians are qualified to treat most feet problems; however, sometimes the special skills of an orthopaedic surgeon or dermatologist are needed for problems that are more severe.

Aches And Pains

When your feet ache after a long day, you might just curse your shoes. Many women say their shoes hurt. But pain that’s not due to sky-high heels may come from a stress fracture - a small crack in a bone. One possible cause: Exercise that was too intense, particularly high-impact sports like basketball and distance running. The weakened bones of osteoporosis increase the risk of this happening.

The most common cause of heel pain is plantar fasciitis, inflammation where this long ligament attaches to the heel bone. The pain may be sharpest when you first wake up and put pressure on the foot. Arthritis, excessive exercise, and poorly fitting shoes also can cause heel pain, as can tendonitis. Less common causes include a bone spur on the bottom of the heel, a bone infection, tumour, or a fracture.

If you feel like you're walking on a marble, or if pain burns in the ball of your foot and radiates to the toes, you may have Morton’s neuroma, a thickening of tissue around a nerve, usually between the third and fourth toes. It is eight to 10 times more common in women than in men and it is caused by injury, or by placing too much pressure on the toes.

Other Common Foot Health Concerns 

Fungal and bacterial conditions - including athlete's foot - occur because the feet are usually enclosed in a dark, damp, warm environment. These infections can cause redness, blisters, peeling, and itching. If not treated promptly, an infection may become chronic and difficult to cure. To prevent these conditions, keep the feet - especially the area between the toes - clean and dry and expose the feet to air whenever possible. If you are prone to this type of fungal infection, you may want to dust your feet daily with a fungicidal powder.

Dry skin can cause itching and burning feet. Use mild soap sparingly and a body lotion on your legs and feet every day. The best moisturisers contain petroleum jelly or lanolin. Be cautious about adding oils to bath water since they can make the feet and bathtub very slippery.

 Corns and calluses are caused by the friction and pressure of bony areas rubbing against shoes. The simple cure may be to wear better-fitting shoes or special pads. Over-the-counter medicines contain acids that destroy the tissue but do not treat the cause. These medicines can sometimes reduce the need for surgery. Treating corns or calluses yourself may be harmful, especially if you have diabetes or poor circulation.

Warts are skin growths caused by viruses. They are sometimes painful and if untreated, may spread. Since over-the-counter preparations rarely cure warts, make sure that you get professional care. A doctor can apply medicines, burn or freeze the wart off, or remove the wart surgically.

Bunions develop when big toe joints are out of line and become swollen and tender. Bunions may be caused by poorly fitting shoes that press on a deformity or an inherited weakness in the foot. If a bunion is not severe, wearing shoes cut wide at the instep and toes may provide relief. Protective pads can also cushion the painful area.

Toenail colour, shape and texture can also point to numerous health problems such as spoon-shaped toenails (iron deficiency), white nails (psoriasis, diabetes, liver or heart problems, pitted nails (nail growth problem or psoriasis). and clubbed toes (a wide range including lung and digestive disorders amongst others).

Ingrown toenails occur when a piece of the nail breaks the skin and improperly trimmed nails usually cause this. Ingrown toenails are especially common in the large toes. A podiatrist or doctor can remove the part of the nail that is cutting into the skin. This will allow the area to heal. Ingrown toenails can usually be avoided by cutting the toenail straight across and level with the top of the toe.

The shortening of the tendons that control the toe movements causes hammertoe. The toe knuckle is usually enlarged, drawing the toe back. Over time, the joint enlarges and stiffens as it rubs against shoes. Your balance may be affected. It is best avoided by wearing shoes and stockings with plenty of room in the toe, but in advanced cases, surgery may be needed.

Spurs are calcium growths that develop on bones of the feet. They are caused by muscle strain in the feet and are irritated by standing for long periods of time, wearing badly fitting shoes, or being overweight. Sometimes they are completely painless, but at other times the pain can be severe. Treatments for spurs include using proper foot support, heel pads, heel cups, or other recommendations by a podiatrist or surgeon.