Foot Care

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The National Institutes of Health describes that each foot has 26 bones, 33 joints and more than 100 tendons, muscles, and ligaments. This means that there are a lot of potential foot ailments that can arise, ranging from minor to severe in seriousness. Foot pain and problems can affect your ability to enjoy the most basic activities in daily life.

According to a 2012 study commissioned by the Institute of Preventative Foot Health , foot health continues to be a concern for a vast number of U.S. adults age 21 and older, with almost 80% reporting having had at least one foot problem. Luckily, many foot conditions can be prevented or treated by following proper foot care tips, such as wearing appropriately fitting footwear. Over-the counter pain reducers may also help.

In this section, you’ll find coverage of some of the most common foot ailments, such as bunions, athlete’s foot and calluses. Read on to learn how to identify and treat these problems.

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Our feet endure enormous amounts of stress. The time we spend on our feet each day can overwork the joints and soft tissue of even the healthiest feet. As a result of this stress, there are certain foot ailments that can develop at any time. Some of the most common are:

Bunions: Bunions are painful bony swellings at the base of the big toe, which can be a result of shoes that cramp the feet. In this condition, the big toe is angled excessively towards the second toe, and a bunion is a symptom of the deformity. Bunions can also run in families. According to The Society of Chiropodists and Podiatrists , the best thing you can do is to wear wider, deeper shoes.  To treat bunions, you can see a podiatrist who can recommend exercises to strengthen your muscles and tendons around the big toe, or wear specially-made orthotic insoles that help the feet work properly. In more severe cases, surgery can remove the swollen tissue and part of the bone.

Plantar Fasciitis: This ailment usually presents as pain on the bottom of the heel when bearing weight. The pain is usually worst on standing, particularly first thing in the morning when you get up. Plantar fasciitis is due to inflammation at the area of the heel bone where a ligament-like structure called the plantar fascia is anchored. The most common cause of heel pain is foot dysfunction which results in excess strain on the plantar fascia. For short term treatment, your podiatrist may apply padding and strapping to alter the direction of stretch of the ligament and may suggest a course of deep heat therapy to stimulate the healing processes. In the long term, your podiatrist may prescribe special insoles (orthoses). If pain persists, drug therapy or surgery may be considered.

Callus and Corns: These are thick, hardened layers of skin that develop on bony areas of the feet, particularly on areas of pressure. It is the body's reaction to pressure or friction, and can appear anywhere the skin rubs against a bone, a shoe, or the ground. They are caused by badly fitting shoes that rub and can be painful. To prevent calluses and corns, avoid shoes that are too tight or have very high heels, which compress areas of your foot, or those that are too loose, as your foot will slide and rub. You can remove early signs of hardened skin with a pumice stone. Also use a moisturising cream daily. If this does not appear to be working, seek advice from a registered podiatrist).

Athlete’s foot: Athlete’s foot is a fungal infection that causes sore, itchy patches of skin between the toes, which then crack and flake. It may have an unpleasant smell and toenails can become infected and turn a brown colour. Vigilant foot hygiene, like changing your socks daily, can prevent athlete's foot. Drying between the toes after showering can help as the fungus thrives on moisture. Sandals also help as they allow air to circulate between the toes. For treatment, try over-the-counter remedies. If the toenail is infected, you will need to see a podiatrist so they can file down the nail and prescribe a topical solution to fight the infection.

Ingrown toenails: Ingrown toenails occur when growing nails become imbedded in the skin at the sides. This condition is usually very painful and can be associated with infection of the toe. To prevent ingrown toenails, don’t cut your toenails too short. Once you have an ingrown toenail, soaking feet in saltwater can prevent infection and reduce swelling. Don’t cut the toenail yourself, see a podiatrist as soon as possible. If the toes become infected, the nail splinter may have to be removed under local anaesthetic.

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There are steps you can take to look after your feet and prevent foot ailments. These are:

  • Wash your feet daily: Keeping your feet clean can ward off a number of foot problems. Make sure to rinse off all soap and dry thoroughly, especially between the toes, as this can protect against fungal infections.
  • Wear shoes that fit correctly: Wearing the right size shoes is vital to foot health. The wrong shoes can cause or aggravate foot ailments while the right shoes can often prevent problems. It’s best to go shoe shopping in the late afternoon when your feet have naturally swollen. If the shoes aren’t comfortable in the shop, don’t buy them.
  • Wear the right type of shoes: Wear shoes made of leather or canvas, not synthetics. Sandals are also good.
  • Avoid high heels: Avoid heels higher than 2¼ inches for long periods as they tilt the foot forward forcing the toes together, which can worsen bunions.
  • Trim toenails to correct length: Trim flat across the nails and don’t cut out or dig at corners. Trimming your nails too short can cause problems like ingrown toenails.
  • Moisturise your feet regularly: Moisturising your feet daily can prevent dry, cracked skin leading to problems such as calluses and ulcers. For best results, apply moisturiser just before bed.
  • Stretch: Stretch the tendons and muscles in your feet. Just 5 to 10 minutes a day can help prevent many common foot ailments.
  • Wear socks: Wearing clean socks, changed daily, can help to prevent foot fungus as they absorb some of the sweat your feet produce.
  • Try ice therapy: Ice therapy can help to relieve tired feet. Gently roll your feet over a frozen bottle of water to give your feet a massage.
  • Let your toenails breathe: Podiatrists recommend that you wear nail polish for specific events and then remove the polish after the event.
  • See a doctor: If you have pain that persists or any questions you’d like answered, see a foot specialist. A proper diagnosis is the key to proper treatment.
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