If you ignore your foot health, it can literally stop you in your tracks.
Your feet might be a long way down, but you should pay attention to them. They may not be the prettiest body part, but your feet are an engineering marvel, supporting your weight and transferring complex forces from your muscles to the ground to support you and help you walk and run. Each foot contains 26 bones, 33 joints and more than 100 muscles, tendons and ligaments. Together, they make up a third of the bones in the human body.
Generally, we take our feet for granted. It’s only when something goes wrong that we pay attention to them. There’s a bewildering range of things that can go wrong with your feet and any problem, however small, should be looked at by a professional. Left unchecked, common foot problems will inevitably lead to more serious conditions, which may make it impossible to walk correctly without pain, ultimately distorting your posture. People at risk of or suffering from diabetes and heart disease should pay special attention because they already have reduced circulation to the feet.
Common foot problems include smelly feet, athlete’s foot, verrucae, bunions, corns and infected toenails and ingrown toenails.
Smelly feet are usually caused by excessive perspiration and an over-growth of fungi and/or bacteria.
Athlete’s foot is a fungal infection – also called tinea pedis. It is contagious via direct contact, wet floors and shared footwear.
Verrucae are flat warts in the sole of the foot. They are forced under the skin and may occur in clusters. The surface is greyish and crumbly, and they may contain small black points, which are swollen blood vessels. Verrucae are also contagious via wet floors. Like warts, verrucae will disappear on their own, but this can take up to two years.
Corns are hard skin that builds up on areas of the feet that are subject to pressure or friction, such as on the little toe.
Infected toenails are commonly the result of a fungal infection, a condition known as onychomycosis. Toenails affected by onychomycosis are often brittle, discoloured or yellow.
Ingrown toenails may be caused by improperly trimmed toenails, nails that are very curved at the edges, pressure from ill-fitting shoes or repeated damage to the feet from normal activities.
When should you seek medical advice? All of the above conditions can be treated: some by medications that are available from pharmacists, while others, particularly fungal nail infections, can require prescription medication from your doctor. You should also seek medical advice if:
you suffer from diabetes, as you may lack some feeling in your feet which can lead to complications, such as ulcers.
you are elderly, as you may have poor circulation.
there is bleeding.
the condition worsens or doesn’t improve after a few days.
How to care for your feet … There are several steps you can take towards healthy feet.
Wear thongs in public showers such as in camping grounds and gyms to prevent you from contracting athlete’s foot.
Wash your feet twice a day with a non-soap cleanser that won’t wash away the skin’s protective oils.
Dry your feet thoroughly, particularly between your toes using a clean towel.
Change your socks daily and wear cotton, not synthetic, socks.
Wash your socks and towels at a high temperature (hot cycle on washing machine).
Wear leather shoes that allow your feet to ‘breathe’ (synthetic shoes tend to increase the amount of perspiration) or wear open shoes or sandals to allow air to circulate freely.
Make sure your shoes fit well and allow room for the length and width of your feet, so your toes aren’t squashed together or bunched up.
Bleach your shower/bath area.
When applying corn or verrucae medication, make sure it does not get on the healthy, unaffected skin.
Trim your toenails straight across, slightly away from the toe. Do not cut off the corners.