General Foot Health
A Biological Masterpiece, But Subject to Many Ills
The foot is a biological masterpiece. Its strong, functional, and flexible design enables it to do its job well and without complaint—if you take proper care of it and don’t take it for granted.
The foot compares to a finely tuned race car, or a space shuttle, vehicles whose function dictates their structure and design. And like them, the human foot is complex, containing within its relatively small size 26 bones (the two feet contain a quarter of all the bones in the body), 33 joints, and a network of more than 100 tendons, ligaments, and muscles to say nothing of nerves and blood vessels.
Tons of Pressure
While working together, the components of your feet share the tremendous pressures of daily living. For example, an average day of walking brings a force equal to several hundred tons to bear on the feet. This fact helps explain why your feet are more susceptible to injury than any other part of your body.
Among the most common of health probelms are foot ailments. Although some can be traced to heredity, many foot problems stem from the cumulative impact of a lifetime of abuse and neglect. Studies show that most Americans experience foot ailments of a greater or lesser degree of seriousness at some point in their lives; nowhere near that many seek medical treatment, apparently because they mistakenly believe that discomfort and pain are normal and expectable to their everyday lives.
There are a number of systemic diseases that are sometimes first detected in the feet, such as circulatory disorders, diabetes, anemia, and kidney problems. The first attacks of arthritis, including gout, often happen in the foot joints.
Like other specialized structures, your feet require specialized care. A doctor of podiatric medicine can make an important contribution to your overall health, whether it is regular preventive care or surgery to correct a foot deformity.
In order to keep your feet healthy, you should be familiar with the most common issues that affect them. Remember, though, that self-treatment can often turn a minor issue into a major one and is generally not advisable. You should seek out a podiatric physician when any of the following conditions occur or persist.
Athlete’s foot is a skin disease, usually starting between the toes or on the bottom of the feet, which could spread to other parts of the body. This disease is caused by a fungus that commonly attacks the feet, because the wearing of shoes and hosiery fosters fungus growth. Signs of athlete’s foot are dry scaly skin, itching, blisters, and inflammation. To help prevent infection, wash feet daily with soap and warm water; dry carefully, especially between the toes; and change shoes and hosery regularly to decrease moisture. Athlete’s foot is not the only infection, fungal or otherwise, which afflicts the foot, and other dry skin/dermatitis conditions are good reasons to see a doctor of podiatric medicine if a suspicious condition persists.
Blisters are caused by skin friction. Never pop them. Apply an adhesive bandage or moleskin over a blister, and leave it on until it falls off naturally in the bath or shower. Keep your feet dry and always wear socks as cushioning between your feet and shoes. If a blister does break on its own, wash the area, then apply an antiseptic, and cover with a sterile bandage.
Bunions are misaligned big toe joints which can become tender and swollen. The deformity causes the first joint of the big toe to slant outward, and the big toe to angle in toward the other toes. Bunions tend to be hereditary and run in families, but the tendency can be encouraged by shoes that are too narrow in the forefoot and toe area. There are conservative and preventive steps that can minimize the discomfort of a bunion, but podiatric surgery is commonly recommended to correct a bunion problem.
Corns and Calluses
Corns and calluses are protective layers of compacted, dead skin cells which are caused by repeated friction. They are also caused because of pressure that builds from skin rubbing against bony areas or against an irregularity in a shoe. Corns ordinarily form on the toes while calluses commonly form on the soles of the feet. The pressure and friction can burn or otherwise be painful and may be relieved by applying moleskin or padding on the affected areas of the foot. Never cut corns or calluses with any type of instrument, and never apply home remedies, except under the instruction of a podiatrist.
Foot odor is a result of the excessive perspiration from the more than 250,000 sweat glands located in the foot. Daily hygiene is requ. Change your shoes daily to let each pair air out, and change your socks, perhaps even more frequently than daily. Antiperspirants and foot powders, as well as soaking your feet in vinegar and water, can help lessen odor.
Hammertoe is a condition in which any of the toes are bent in a claw-like position. It occurs most frequently in the second toe, often when a bunion slants the big toe toward and under it, but any of the other three smaller toes can be affected by this condition. Although hammertoe usually stems from muscle imbalance, it is often aggravated by ill-fitting shoes or socks that cramp the toes. Do your best to avoid pressure on the toes as much as possible. Surgery could be necessary to realign the toes to their proper position.
Heel pain is generally traceable to faulty biomechanics which place too much stress on the heel bone, ligaments, or nerves in the area. Stress could occur while walking or jumping on hard surfaces, or as a result from poorly made footwear. Excess weight is also a major contributing factor to heel pain. Some general health conditions cause heel pain such as: circulatory problems, arthritis, and gout.
Heel spurs are growths of bone on the underside of the heel bone which can occur without pain. Pain may result when inflammation develops at the point where the spur forms. Both heel pain and heel spurs are often associated with plantar fasciitis, an inflammation of the long band of connective tissue running from the heel to the ball of the foot. Treatments range from custom-made orthotics and exercise to cortisone injections or anti-inflammatory medication.
Ingrown nails occur when toe nails whose corners or sides dig painfully into the skin, often resulting in infection. They are frequently caused by improper nail trimming but also by shoe pressure, injury, heredity, fungal infection, and poor foot structure. With a proper toenail clipper instrument, toenails should always be trimmed straight across and kept slightly longer than the end of the toe. If the ingrown portion of the nail is painful or infected, your foot and ankle specialist may remove the affected portion; if the condition reoccurs frequently, your podiatrist may permanently remove the entire nail.
Neuromas are enlarged, benign growths of nerves, most commonly located between the third and fourth toes. These growths are caused by bones and other tissue rubbing against and irritating the nerves. Abnormal bone structure or pressure from poorly fitting shoes also can create the condition, which can result in pain, tingling, burning, or numbness between the toes and in the ball of the foot. Conservative treatment includes taping, padding, cortisone injections, and orthotic devices but surgical removal of the growth is sometimes necessary.
Warts are small, usually painless growths on the skin that are caused by a virus, which enters the skin through small cuts and infects the skin. Children and teenagers tend to be more susceptible to warts than adults. Most warts are harmless and benign, even though painful and unsightly. Warts often come from walking barefooted on dirty surfaces or littered ground. There are several simple procedures which your podiatrist might utilize to remove warts.
Top Ten Foot Health Tips
Disorders, diseases, and disabilities of the foot or ankle affect the quality of life and mobility of millions people in the United States. However, the general public and even a high number of physicians are unaware of the important relationship between foot health and overall health and well-being. The American Podiatric Medical Association (APMA) would like to share the following tips to help keep feet healthy.
1. Don't ignore foot pain and discomfort—it's not normal. If the pain persists, see a podiatric physician as soon as possible.
2. Inspect feet regularly. Pay close attention to changes in color and temperature of your feet. Look for thick or discolored nails (a sign of developing fungus), and check for cuts or cracks in the skin. Peeling or scaling on the soles of feet could indicate athlete's foot. Any growth on the foot is considered abnormal.
3. Wash your feet regularly, especially between the toes, and be sure to dry them completely.
4. Trim your toenails straight across, but not too short. Be careful not to cut nails in corners or on the sides which lead to ingrown toenails. Persons with diabetes, heart problems, or poor circulation should not treat their own feet because they are more prone to infection.
5. Make sure that your shoes fit you properly. Purchase new shoes later in the day when feet tend to be at their largest and replace old, worn out shoes as soon as possible.
6. Select and wear the proper shoe for the activity that you are engaged in (i.e., running shoes for running).
7. Alternate your shoes—don't wear the same pair of shoes day after day.
8. Avoid walking barefoot—your feet will be more prone to infection and injury. While at the beach or when wearing sandals, remember to always use sunblock on your feet along with the rest of your body.
9. Be careful when using home remedies to take care of foot ailments; self-treatment often times can turn a minor problem into a major one.
10. If you are diabetic, it is very important that you visit a podiatric physician at least once a year for a check-up.
Your podiatric physician/surgeon has been trained specifically and extensively in the diagnosis and treatment of all types of foot conditions. Their training encompasses all of the intricately related systems and structures of the foot and lower leg including circulatory, neurological, skin, and the musculoskeletal systems, which includes bones, tendons, ligaments, joints, nerves, and muscles.