The foundation of your body’s health can be found in an unlikely place that you probably take for granted: your feet. These anchors of the body can affect your overall health, and pain can indicate warning signs of something else going on in your body, including artery blockage in your heart. Despite the necessity of taking proper care of your feet, it is an area most people tend to overlook. According to the American Podiatric Medical Association, 47 percent of Americans suffer from a foot ailment, but only 26 percent have actually seen a podiatrist.
People who work on their feet all day, including hospitality and health care workers, know firsthand the aches and pains associated with their careers, but even the most health conscious among them can miss the symptoms of foot injuries and chronic stress. “Joints and soft tissue can be overworked every day as a result stress from being put on one’s foot as on hard surfaces,” says Dr. Stephen Richman, chief of podiatry at Northside Hospital and a member of a practice at Premier Podiatry. “Knowing what symptoms to look for is a good first step to better foot health.” Cobb In Focus looked at some common foot ailments and how to work with a podiatrist to make sure your feet stay healthy for years to come.
Chronic repetitive stress leads to several common foot conditions, including inflammation around the heel bone called plantar fasciitis. Most sufferers complain of heel pain when bearing weight and worsening symptoms after a period of rest. Regular stretching, icing of the area, anti-inflammatories and over-the-counter orthotic inserts can help reduce stress and inflamation.
Callouses and Corns
You may already suffer from corns and callouses, or thick areas of skin covering a bony area such as a toe joint. Many people see it as the price of wearing high heels or long work days on their feet. Friction and excessive weight bearing on the soles of your feet are usually the culprit of callouses and corns.
Though many might consider such a condition a mere irritant and unsightly eyesore, diabetes sufferers are especially at risk. Some diabetics may experience a lack of sensation in their feet that results in leaving corns and callouses untreated. “Diabetics with neuropathy or diminished sensation to the feet are prone to callouses and blisters that can quickly break down into deep sores that can go to the bone,” says Richman. That is why it is vital for diabetics to plan regular visits to their podiatrist who may recommend customized shoes or inserts to alleviate pain and distribute weight more evenly.
Hammer toe occurs on top of or between your toes and feels like a bony deposit. High heels, poorly fitting shoes, injury or heredity are usually the culprits. Simply wearing comfortable, supportive shoes with room in the toes as well as regular icing can help. A more painful or debilitating condition could require methodical taping of the area, cortisone injections, surgery or a collagen filler injection.
If you are experiencing a burning or shooting pain sensation between your second, third and fourth toes, you may be suffering from neuromas. This benign thickening of the nerve can be caused from wearing narrowly fitted shoes or high heels. “Common treatments include shoe modifications, arch supports and cortisone injections to decrease nerve inflammation,” explains Richman.
You may already be familiar with the often-embarassing bump on the side or top of your big toe joint. An unsightly bunion can appear red, cause pain or become deformed in the area where the big toe leans in toward the other toes. Repetitive foot stress, high heels or habitually walking on hard surfaces can create an abnormality in your foot function and lead to bunions.
Discolored or painful toenails could be a simple bruise or it may point to something more serious, like a fungal nail infection. Village Podiatry Centers warn that infections tend to grow and worsen, often spreading across the nail and into the surrounding skin. A combination of treatments may be recommended including laser nail treatment, oral antifungal pills, antifungal creams, lotions or gels, dissolving the nail or a surgical removal of the infected nail. In some case, an artificial nail restoration like Keryflex Nail may be used during a relatively quick in-patient procedure.
A common infection of the skin, athlete’s foot causes itching, scaling, blisters and redness. The uncomfortable and peeling scales can stretch from between the toes to the bottom of the foot. Onychomycosis occurs when your toenails become thick and painful with infection.
Though the name athlete’s foot might indicate that only athletic people get this condition, it can happen to anyone exposed to fungal growth, such as in a locker room or dressing room. Regularly changing your shoes and socks, keeping your feet clean and dry, practicing good hygiene and wearing acrylic or cotton socks can help. Antifungal medication or topical ointments may be prescribed by your podiatrist, depending on the severity of the condition.
Most people have suffered from an ingrown toenail at some point. Poor nail trimming, pressure on the foot from a shoe, infection and heredity can all cause the toenail’s corners or sides to grow and dig into the skin. Simply trimming toenails straight across, wearing properly fitting shoes and paying attention to foot pain usually alleviates the symptoms. In very painful conditions, a podiatrist may recommend the toenail be removed.
Athletes and active people often suffer from Achilles tendonitis because they habitually skip proper warmup and stretching exercises, which leads to irritation and inflamation of the Achilles tendon. It could also be caused from straining your feet while working or doing daily activities. Simple treatment involving ice and anti-inflamatory medicine usually proves helpful. Persistent pain requires a visit to a podiatrist who may prescribe cortisone injections, special excercises, orthotics or laser therapies, among other treatments.
While teenagers and college students sharing communal bathrooms and locker rooms are more suspectible to contracting plantar’s warts, just about anyone can contract them. Unlike soft and fleshy warts, plantar’s warts are typically flat with a hard, rough surface. Caused by a virus, plantar’s warts can grow and cluster and can cause pain when they sprout up around your heel and bottom of your foot.
Self-treatment with over-the-counter medications is typically not recommended and can destroy healthy skin and surrounding tissue. The best treatment is to see a licensed podiatrist who can usually remove the wart. It is also important to have your feet professionally checked for unlikely melanoma lesions that you may mistake for plantar’s warts.
Flat Foot or Fallen Arches
Flat feet, or fallen arches, can be caused by arthritis, injury, heredity or muscle and skeletal disorders. The condition can make it painful to function normally and carry on daily activities. Treatment can be as non-invasive as wearing supportive shoes or custom orthotic inserts, but surgical options may be necessary to help reconstruct a flat foot or insert a special titanium implant.
Foot Pain Could Be a Warning Sign
Diabetics are not the only ones at risk for foot pain and poor circulation issues. Symptoms of poor circulation usually include cramping in the back of your legs after walking even short distances. Called claudication, regular cramping could indicate arteries in the legs are narrowed or blocked. Richman warns it could also be a telltale sign of artery blockage in the heart and requires an examination by a specialist. The first step in testing is usually a simple ultrasound.
Many common foot ailments can be prevented from ongoing daily and preventive care. Windy Hill Podiatry recommends consistent care to prevent foot pain and ailments. Start by regularly inspecting your feet to note changes in color or thickening of toenails. Carefully cutting toenails straight across and avoiding trimming the corners or sides can help prevent ingrown toenails, while washing and carefully drying your feet and between your toes could alleviate athlete’s foot. Wearing shoes that fit properly, replacing worn out shoes, alternating shoes on a regular basis and wearing sunblock on your feet are also good rules of thumb in foot care.
Remember that your feet are especially vulnerable to infections when they are tucked away in dark and moist environments, so regularly change your shoes and socks and keep your feet dry whenever possible. And though it is tempting to walk barefoot on sandy beaches and in common areas of someone’s home, podiatrists recommend wearing socks or shoes to avoid picking up a virus or fungus. People suffering from diabetes, poor circulation or heart problems should not take foot treatment into their own hands. Instead, see a podiatrist at least once a year and do not delay getting treatment when needed.
Foot care does not stop at personal hygiene. For many, hereditary traits cause flat feet and other conditions. Daily care and diligence will not necessarily correct what you are born with. Others believe a little foot pain is just part of an active lifestyle and does not require attention. But Dr. Glyn E. Lewis of Marietta Podiatry warns that ramping up physical activitiy without proper stretching and excercises can lead to foot injuries.
Whatever you do, try not to ignore pain and hope it goes away. “Whether you have healthy feet or not, you can develop stress-related foot problems and [you] should not ignore these symptoms, as they usually will get worse without some type of treatment,” says Richman. Over time, it is easy to take your feet for granted when you are accustomed to ignoring pain symptoms. Lewis often sees patients who endure pain for upwards of six months before taking action. “The longer you wait to take action, the longer the course of treatment becomes,” he says. It is much simpler to get on top of a foot condition at its onset, so be sure to see your podiatrist when experiencing any type of persistent foot or ankle pain and take care of your foundations of health.