Foot Care

Tips to keep your feet healthy and well

Diseases, disorders and disabilities of the foot or ankle affect the quality of life and mobility of millions of Americans. However, the general public and even many physicians are unaware of the important relationship between foot health and overall health and well-being. With this in mind, the American Podiatric Medical Association (APMA) would like to share a few tips to help keep feet healthy.

1. Don’t ignore foot pain—it’s not normal. If the pain persists, see a podiatric physician.

2. Inspect your feet regularly. Pay attention to changes in color and temperature of your feet. Look for thick or discolored nails (a sign of developing fungus), and check for cracks or cuts in the skin. Peeling or scaling on the soles of feet could indicate athlete’s foot. Any growth on the foot is not considered normal.

Wash your feet regularly, especially between the toes, and be sure to dry them completely.

4. Trim toenails straight across, but not too short. Be careful not to cut nails in corners or on the sides; it can lead to ingrown toenails. Persons with diabetes, poor circulation, or heart problems should not treat their own feet because they are more prone to infection.

5. Make sure that your shoes fit properly. Purchase new shoes later in the day when feet tend to be at their largest and replace worn out shoes as soon as possible.

6. Select and wear the right shoe for the activity that you are engaged in (i.e., running shoes for running).

7. Alternate shoes—don’t wear the same pair of shoes every day.

8. Avoid walking barefooted—your feet will be more prone to injury and infection. At the beach or when wearing sandals, always use sunblock on your feet just as on the rest of your body.

9. Be cautious when using home remedies for foot ailments; self-treatment can often turn a minor problem into a major one.

10. If you are a person with diabetes, it is vital that you see a podiatric physician at least once a year for a check-up.

Fitness Planning

Striving for physical fitness is not to be taken lightly. The President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports cautions that unless you are convinced of the benefits of fitness and the risks of unfitness, you will not succeed. Patience is essential. Don’t try to do too much too soon; give yourself a chance to improve.

As you exercise, pay attention to what your body, including your feet, tells you. If you feel discomfort, you may be trying to do too much too fast. Ease up a bit or take a break and start again at another time. Drink fluids on hot days or during very strenuous activities to avoid heat stroke and heat exhaustion.

First Step — See Your Doctor

Before you start a fitness program, you should consult a physician for a complete physical and a podiatric physician for a foot exam. This is especially so if you are over 60, haven’t had a physical checkup in the last year, have a disease or disability, or are taking medication. It is recommended that if you are 35-60, substantially overweight, easily fatigued, smoke excessively, have been physically inactive, or have a family history of heart disease, you should consult a physician.

Once you have been cleared to begin exercise, your first goal is to make physical activity a habit. The goals for your activity program, at whatever level of fitness you presently have, are (a) 30 minutes of exercise, (b) four times a week, (c) at a comfortable pace. Stay true to these goals, and you will become fit.

Suiting Up and Shoe Up

For your fitness success, you should wear the right clothes and the proper shoes. Wear loose-fitting, light-colored and loosely woven clothing in hot weather and several layers of warm clothing in cold weather.

In planning for your equipment needs, don’t ignore the part of your body that takes the biggest beating — your feet. Podiatric physicians recommend sturdy, properly fitted athletic shoes of proper width, with leather or canvas uppers, soles that are flexible (but only at the ball of the foot), cushioning, arch supports, and room for your toes. They also suggest a well-cushioned sock for reinforcement, preferably one with an acrylic fiber content so that some perspiration moisture is “wicked” away.

Because of the many athletic shoe brands, and styles within those brands, you may want to ask a podiatrist to help you select the shoe you need. Generally speaking, athletic shoes are available in sport-specific styles or cross-training models.

Foot Care for Fitness

The importance of foot care in exercising is stressed by the American Podiatric Medical Association. According to the American Academy of Podiatric Sports Medicine, an APMA affiliate, people don’t realize the tremendous pressure that is put on their feet while exercising. For example, when a 150-pound jogger runs three miles, the cumulative impact on each foot is more than 150 tons.

Even without exercising, foot problems contribute to pain in knees, hips, and lower back, and also diminish work efficiency and leisure enjoyment. It is clear, however, that healthy feet are critical to a successful fitness program.

Further evidence for the necessity of proper foot care is the fact that there are more than 300 foot ailments. Although some are hereditary, many stem from the cumulative impact of a lifetime of abuse and neglect and, if left untreated, these foot ailments can prevent the successful establishment of fitness programs.

The Human Foot –A Biological Masterpiece

The human foot is a biological masterpiece. Like a finely tuned race car or a space shuttle, it 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, muscles and ligaments, to say nothing of blood vessels and nerves.

Foot problems are among the most common health ills. Studies show that at least three-quarters of the American populace experiences foot problems of some degree of seriousness at some time in their lives; only a small percentage of them seek medical treatment, apparently because most mistakenly believe that discomfort and pain are normal.

To keep your feet healthy for daily pursuits or for fitness, you should be familiar with the most common ills that affect them. Remember, though, that self treatment can often turn a minor problem into a major one, and is generally not advisable. If the conditions persist, you should see a podiatrist.

These conditions may also occur because of the impact of exercise on your feet:

Athlete’s Foot: A skin disease, frequently starts between the toes, and can spread to other parts of the foot and body. It is caused by a fungus that commonly attacks the feet because the warm, dark, climate of shoes and such places as public locker rooms foster fungus growth. You can prevent infection by washing your feet daily in soap and water; drying carefully, especially between the toes; changing shoes and hose regularly to decrease moisture; and using foot powder on your feet and in your shoes on a daily basis.

Blisters: Caused by skin friction and moisture, often from active exercising in poorly fitting shoes. There are different schools of thought about whether to pop them. If the blister isn’t large, apply an antiseptic and cover with a bandage, and leave it on until it falls off naturally in the bath or shower. If it is large, it may be appropriate to pop the blister with a sterile needle, by piercing it several times at its roof, then to drain the fluid as thoroughly as possible before applying an antiseptic, and bandaging. If the area appears infected or excessively inflamed, see your podiatrist. Keep your feet dry and wear a layer of socks as a cushion.

Corns and Calluses: Protective layers of compacted, dead skin cells. They are caused by repeated friction and pressure from skin rubbing against bony areas or against an irregularity in a shoe (another reason to have your shoes properly fitted). Corns ordinarily form on the toes and calluses on the soles of the feet, but both can occur on either surface. Never cut corns or calluses with any instrument, and never apply home remedies, except under a podiatrist’s instructions.

Heel Pain: Generally traced to faulty biomechanics which place too much stress on the heel bone. Stress also can result from a bruise incurred while walking or jumping on hard surfaces or from poorly made or excessively worn footwear. Inserts designed to take the pressure off the heel are generally successful. Heel spurs are bony growths on the underside, forepart of the heel bone. Pain may result when inflammation develops at the point where the spur forms. Spurs can also occur without pain. Both heel pain and heel spurs are often associated with plantar fasciitis, an inflammation of the long band of supportive connective tissue running from the heel to the ball of the foot. There are many excellent treatments for heel pain and heel spurs. However, some general health conditions — arthritis and gout, for example — also cause heel pain.

Fitness and Your Podiatrist

A doctor of podiatric medicine can make an important contribution to your total health and to the success of your fitness program. While podiatrists focus on foot care, they are aware of total health needs and should be seen as part of your annual medical checkup. If your foot ailments are related to a more generalized health problem, your podiatrist will consult with your primary physician or refer you to an appropriate specialist.

Many of these diabetic patients have heard – lose weight, stop smoking and exercise – however podiatrist have a few additional instructions for care.

Wear thick, soft socks. Socks made of an acrylic blend are well suited but avoid mended socks or those with seams, which could rub to cause blisters or other skin injuries.

Cut toenails straight across. Never cut into the corners, or taper, which could trigger an ingrown toenail. Use an emery board to gently file away sharp corners or snags. If your nails are hard to trim, ask your podiatric physician for assistance.

Be properly measured and fitted every time you buy new shoes. Shoes are of supreme importance to diabetes sufferers because poorly fitted shoes are involved in as many as half of the problems that lead to amputations.  Because foot size and shape may change over time, everyone should have their feet measured by an experienced shoe fitter whenever they buy a new pair of shoes.

Don’t go barefoot. Not even in your own home. Barefoot walking outside is particularly dangerous because of the possibility of cuts, falls, and infection.  When at home, wear slippers.  Never go barefoot.

Never try to remove calluses, corns, or warts by yourself. Commercial, over-the-counter preparations that remove warts or corns should be avoided because they can burn the skin and cause irreplaceable damage to the foot of a diabetic sufferer. Never try to cut calluses with a razor blade or any other instrument because the risk of cutting yourself is too high, and such wounds can often lead to more serious ulcers and lacerations. See your podiatric physician for assistance in these cases.

What Parents Need To Know

Problems noticed at birth will not always disappear by themselves.You should not wait until the child begins walking to take care of a problem you’ve noticed earlier. It is best to take action when the child is a toddler to ensure better responsiveness to conservative treatment options.

Remember that lack of complaint by a youngster is not a reliable sign. The bones of growing feet are so flexible that they can be twisted and distorted without the child being aware of it. Walking is the best of all foot exercises, according to podiatric physicians. They also recommend that walking patterns be carefullyobserved. Does the child toe in or out, have knock knees, or other gait abnormalities? These problems can be corrected if they are detected early.

With the exception of infancy, going barefoot is not encouraged among children. Walking barefoot on dirty pavements exposes children’s feet to a variety of dangers including infection through accidental cuts,
sprains or fractures. Another potential problem is plantar warts, a condition caused by a virus which invades the sole of the foot through cuts and breaks in the skin. They require extensive treatment and can keep children from school and other activities. Be careful about applying home remedies to children’s feet. Preparations strong enough to kill certain types of fungus can harm the skin.  

Children’s Shoe Shopping Guide

As a child’s feet continue to develop, it may be necessary to change their shoe and sock size every few months to allow room for the feet to grow.
Although foot problems result mainly from injury, hereditary factors, deformity, or illness, improper footwear can aggravate pre-existing conditions. Before parents invest in a new pair of children’s footwear, some foot factors need to be considered:

      • Shoes that don’t fit properly can aggravate the feet.
      • Always measure a child’s feet before buying shoes and fit the shoe to the foot. Never hand down footwear. Just because a shoe size fits one child comfortably doesn’t mean it will fit another the same way. Not to mention that the practice of sharing shoes can spread fungi like athlete’s foot and nail fungus.
      • Watch for signs of irritation. Redness is a sure sign that a shoe is too tight or too loose. If your child always wants to remove one or both of his/her shoes, this may be an unspoken sign that the shoes don’t fit properly.
      • Examine the heels. When children begin to show in-toeing, they may wear through the heels of their shoes much quicker than outgrowing the shoes themselves. Uneven heel wear can indicate a foot problem that should be checked by a podiatrist.


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