What Makes Feet Hurt?
Most of us start life with trouble-free feet. What goes wrong? Of hundreds of known foot ailments, most can be traced to:
- improper foot care
- injury (often caused by shoes and socks or stockings that don’t fit well)
- the effects of aging.
Women have about four times as many foot problems as men. As you might guess, high-heeled, narrow shoes are often the culprit.
Even a small problem with the feet can make walking difficult and painful. So taking care of your feet pays off in a big way.
Constant weight-bearing over the years may cause feet to spread and flatten, especially across the front part of the foot. You may find that you need a wider and longer shoe as you age. Be sure the shoe fits before you wear it!
Common Foot Problems
Corns and calluses
Corns and calluses are caused by repeated friction and pressure from shoes. If the first signs of soreness are ignored, corns and calluses rise up as nature’s way of protecting sensitive areas.
Neither calluses nor corns have roots under the skin; they are simply thick layers of dead skin cells. However, the pressure of this hard mass on sensitive nerves in the skin can be painful.
Many people develop calluses under the ball (the front part) of the foot. Your doctor can arrange padding to prevent worsening of this problem.
At the first sign of tenderness, pads placed on the skin around the calluses will help protect the area. (Pads over the callus will increase the pressure.)
A bunion is a deformity at the big toe joint. It occurs when the big toe slants outward at an angle and becomes swollen or tender. Bunions can be inherited, or caused by wearing shoes that are too narrow in the forefoot. Sometimes bunions are a sign of developing arthritis in older people.
Athlete’s foot is caused by a fungus. Painful itching between toes, cracked or scaly skin, small blisters and red, irritated skin patches are usually signs of athlete’s foot or other fungal or bacterial conditions.
The best way to help prevent athlete’s foot infection is to keep feet clean and dry with a daily washing. Be especially careful to dry between toes. Use a foot powder to help feet stay drier through the day.
Ingrown toenails have corners which have been crowded by the skin. To prevent ingrown toenails, trim nails straight across with toenail clippers. Do not round off corners. The nail should be kept trimmed to protect it from pressure and irritation. After clipping, smooth nails with a file.
To ease the pain of an ingrown toenail, wear open-toed sandals and soak feet in warm water once or twice a day.
Hammertoe is a hooked or claw-like deformity that affects millions. The most common forms are acquired, and shoes or stockings that cramp the toes may be a factor. Toe joints contract, and over a period of time, a bulge forms at the top of the joint. Hammertoes can affect overall balance and comfort.
Blisters are caused by poor-fitting shoes and socks. If blisters occur, don’t pop them—you may cause infection. If a blister breaks on its own, carefully wash the area, apply antiseptic, cover with a sterile bandage during the day, and uncover at night to let the skin breathe.
Poor blood circulation
Your feet are the “outer reaches” of your circulatory system. So cold temperatures, pressure, inactivity or smoking can restrict the circulation of blood to them. The signs are persistent, unusual feelings of cold, numbness, tingling, burning or fatigue in feet and legs. Other symptoms may include discoloration, dry skin, absence of hair on feet or legs, or cramping or tightness in leg muscles when walking. Keep warm, exercise moderately, and have periodic medical exams.
Osteoarthritis, which is usually caused by the wear and tear of the joints that comes with age, often affects the feet and inhibits movement. Proper foot care and proper padding to cushion feet are especially important for people with this condition.
Special Care for Diabetics
Diabetes can affect blood circulation. It can also lessen feeling in the feet. So diabetics are especially vulnerable to foot problems. People with diabetes should be sure to keep the feet warm, to wear non-restrictive shoes, and to always wear shoes in order to protect the feet. Checking daily for redness, cuts and cracks can prevent them from developing into more a more serious problem. If you have diabetes, see your physician about even the most simple foot problems. Avoid cutting corns or calluses and using any remedy containing salicylic acid (an ingredient listed on labels of certain corn remedies). Trim toenails carefully to avoid breaking the skin or producing an ingrown toenail.
April is Foot Health Awareness Month. The American Podiatric Medical Association website offers consumer information on foot care (www.apma.org/learn/index.cfm).
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently updated their recommendations for diabetic foot care (www.cdc.gov/Features/DiabetesFootHealth)