For most of us, we never think about our feet until there’s a problem. Maybe it’s something small like a blister, or it could be more serious like pain when walking. Simply put, most of us don’t take proper care of our feet until it’s too late for straightforward solutions. However, it doesn’t have to be this way. By giving our feet some tender loving care each day, they will reward us by staying healthy and attractive.
An Ounce of Prevention
There’s a whole host of problems that can affect our feet and can be avoided with a bit of preventive care. “Preventing common medical foot issues frequently comes down to common sense measures such as maintaining good footwear,” says Matthew J. Reschly, MD, of North Atlanta Dermatology. Improper footwear is often cited as the cause of conditions such as ingrown toenails, corns (when skin becomes hard due to pressure and friction), and bunions.
A bunion is a bony bump on the side of the foot, near the joint at the bottom of the big toe. This develops when the bone or tissue moves out of place. Bunions can be caused by an array of factors, including abnormal foot mechanics and anatomy, such as being flat-footed, having joint hypermobility, and inflammatory joint disease. Since bunions are a chronic problem that can worsen over time, as people age, they are likely to be affected by them. “Any shoe that is a flat, has a tight toe box, or has an overly high heel is bad for overall foot health and function,” says Richard Kaufman, DPM, of Ankle and Foot Centers of Georgia – Roswell and Piedmont Atlanta Hospital.
Tik Pau, MD, a Gwinnett Medical Center-affiliated physician and primary care provider with Gwinnett Medical Group’s Bostock Family Medicine advises avoiding shoes that are undersized, have pointed-toes that constrict feet, are narrow, and have a heel height of more than 2 inches. An orthotic (shoe insert) can also be helpful in keeping bunions and hammertoes at bay. Hammertoe is a common foot deformity that causes an unusual bend in the middle joint of a toe. It typically occurs because of soft tissue injury, inflammatory arthritis, neuromuscular disorders or trauma like stubbing, jamming or breaking a toe, notes Dr. Pau. “These conditions [bunions and hammertoes] are biomechanical in nature, so wearing an orthotic that stabilizes your hindfoot [back area] can prevent the abnormal mechanics that lead to their formation during gait while walking,” says Dr. Kaufman.
When it comes to selecting an orthotic, there are three options—over-the-counter brands such as Dr. Scholl’s®, medical-grade orthotics, and custom orthotics. “Pure over-the-counter orthotics do not actually correct abnormal foot mechanics, which is what you should really be looking for in an orthotic,” Dr. Kaufman adds.
While custom orthotics are his ideal recommendation, medical-grade inserts, such as ones by Redi-Thotics® and Powerstep®, can be purchased at a podiatrist’s office or on Amazon but have a limited lifespan of around six months, and are not best for people with high arches.
For those with active lifestyles, one of the most common causes of foot and heel pain in adults, plantar fasciitis—is a medical issue to watch out for. Plantar fasciitis is characterized by pain in the plantar region (the middle part of the bottom) of the foot that worsens with walking. “Possible risk factors for the development of plantar fasciitis include obesity, prolonged walking or standing on hard surfaces, prolonged jumping, flat feet, and having high arches,” says Dr. Pau. The condition can be prevented and treated by stretching the plantar fascia and calf muscles, avoiding flat shoes and walking barefoot, using shoe inserts, and decreasing physical activities that are suggested to be causative or aggravating (e.g., excessive running, dancing,
Back to Basics
Practicing good hygiene habits can go a long way in warding off foot troubles. A diligent daily scrub of the feet
and between the toes will help minimize excess skin buildup, bacterial overgrowth and fungi, explains Dr. Reschly.
After washing, be just as thorough when drying the feet, making sure to dry the area between the toes so there is no residual moisture that could lead to fungi. Once dry, follow up with a good lotion or foot balm to moisturize the feet. “If you find that you have dry skin or cracked heels, using a petroleum-containing emollient or a humectant, such as lactic acid, can help draw moisture into the skin,” Dr. Kaufman says. He notes that CeraVe® works well for tough, thick skin and Eucerin® is effective at combating overall dryness.
It’s also necessary to keep your toenails clipped and free of ragged edges. However, do not think fingernail clippers will work as well as toenail clippers. “You should always trim your toenails straight across while still showing a little of the white part of the top of the toenail. People make the mistake of rounding the nail edges and cutting the nail too short, making them susceptible to ingrown toenails and infections,” says Dr. Matthew Ward, podiatrist with Marietta Podiatry Group.
If you do develop nail fungus, there are multiple remedies available. “The most effective treatment for nail fungus is still to take terbinafine orally,” says Dr. Reschly. “However, there are several new treatments that do not require taking pills and monthly blood work. Three newer topical treatments include JUBLIA®, KERYDIN®, and Nuvail™, which can be quite effective if used properly every day for up to six months or one year.” He notes that over-the-counter nail fungus medication and unconventional topical applications of Vicks® VapoRub™, tea tree oil, and soaking the feet in LISTERINE® can also be beneficial.
Some Final Steps for Foot Care
Many of us visit the gym multiple times a week, which provides ample opportunity for exposure to germs. To reduce your risk of bringing home unwanted bacteria or a virus, do not go barefoot in a gym shower or poolside and opt to wear flip-flops or sandals instead. Also, change your socks daily to keep moisture at bay. Choose socks with wicking material that wicks away sweat, along with socks that allow your feet to breathe.
Taking care of your feet remains a crucial part of your overall health, so give it the attention it deserves. “Just remember, you only get two feet in a lifetime,” says Dr. Suzette Clements, board-certified podiatrist and owner of Flat Shoals Foot & Ankle Center. “It’s important to establish and maintain daily foot hygiene.”
Ankle and Foot Centers of Georgia – Roswell
Bostock Family Medicine
Flat Shoals Foot & Ankle Center
Marietta Podiatry Group
North Atlanta Dermatology
Piedmont Atlanta Hospital