An often-disregarded aspect of total health, particularly in people with active lifestyles, is a dearth of attention paid to the most common foot conditions. Healthy, active people are most at risk of experiencing foot conditions because conditions correlate with activities that put repeated stress on the feet.
This includes many common types of exercise and recreation, and with feet confined in tight shoes as the body sweats, as it would during exercise or strenuous activity of any kind. Patients concerned about the long-term health of their feet, their keys to mobility and independence later in life, can achieve their aims by adopting a simple approach to foot health.
Ailments that impact your feet are treated and managed by cleaning the feet vigorously and choosing shoes that allow your feet dexterity without causing irritation. Restrictive footwear compromises health by causing skin irritations and deformities when feet are unduly confined over substantial intervals.
Some of these conditions are irreversible without surgical treatment. Less onerous conditions that affect the skin are best treated with simple hygienic treatments. Total health and independence cannot be achieved without healthy feet; foot conditions undermine comfort in daily activities and threaten to compromise mobility long-term.
What Is a Foot Condition?
A foot condition is a condition that afflicts the skin, tissue, or bones in the foot. These conditions generally fall into one of three categories: skin irritations, a deformity, or skeletal aggravation. The most common factors contributing to foot conditions are hygiene and footwear.
Patients without a specific foot condition who hope to maintain good health can do so by instituting a regimen of comprehensive hygiene that does not brush over cleanliness beneath the foot and between the toes. Patients should also be sure to choose footwear that supports their feet without creating unnecessary irritation or points of pressure.
Skin irritations on the feet are common and generally easy to treat using medical supplies available over-the-counter and by amending footwear choices long-term to ensure irritations do not recur. Skin irritations are almost always caused by either the foot rubbing against some portion of a shoe or by leaving warm, damp socks or shoes on for long periods of time. These conditions typically present a rash or visible irritation that is sensitive to the touch and slow to disappear when not treated with care.
Perhaps the most onerous category of foot conditions are deformities and the structural issues they create. These conditions are generally visually obvious to the patient although some conditions are difficult to distinguish from one another. Malformations are irregularities in the joints, typically the joints in the toes.
Conditions in this category often cause skin-related foot conditions because deformed portions of the foot sit irregularly in standard shoes. Deformities can be responsive to shoe inserts, but patients with these conditions have a choice between pain management and surgical options.
Skeletal and Tendon Issues
As we will see, heel spurs and plantar fasciitis are the most common foot conditions that sight cannot immediately identif. Both conditions cause the patient pain in the heel. The conditions are interrelated; any patient that has suffered from plantar fasciitis will likely develop heel spurs, eventually. Doctors often confuse the two because the symptoms are so similar and, fortunately for patients, relatively mild and easy to manage which is fortuitous because treatment options are minimal.
How Do Foot Conditions Affect Your Life?
Foot conditions should inform specific, mundane decisions patients make on a day-to-day basis. Almost every foot condition we consider in this article bears at least some relationship to the footwear used by the patient.
For long-term mobility, patients concerned with the health of their feet should think very carefully about the shoes they wear and the effect those shoes have on their feet. Patients also risk developing a deformity if they engage in an abrasive activity repeatedly over a long period. To avoid irritations to the skin on the feet, patients must institute a strict and thorough hygienic regimen.
Structural issues caused by deformities in the foot are frequently correlated with restrictive footwear used over long periods of time to the point where the footwear has had a lasting impact on the structure of the foot. Patients concerned about deformities in their feet should think carefully about their shoes and consult a podiatrist when necessary.
Some structural issues can be treated with shoe inserts, but this option is of limited value, especially in the later stages of the foot condition. The only other treatment options for patients with structural issues related to footwear are surgical. To preserve comfort in mobility long-term patients must preserve the health of their feet through sensible footwear decision.
Many minor foot conditions, especially skin-related foot conditions, are reflective of hygiene habits. In this way, the presence of skin-related foot conditions indicates the need to amend hygiene practices and good health of the skin on and around the foot indicates hygiene practices are sufficiently thorough. Untreated skin ailments on or around the foot contribute to discomfort and unattractive, scaly skin on the feet or discolored toenails.
Unlike most health concerns, exercise can have an antagonistic effect on the feet. For this reason, foot conditions are most common among active, otherwise healthy patients. This is because many foot conditions are caused by frequent engagement in activities that put stress on the foot including many athletic and recreational endeavors.
Furthermore, patients who live an active lifestyle are more likely to leave their feet in the moist environment created by sweaty athletic shoes for longer periods of time which contributes to fungal infections in the foot. Patients should not despair; even with a foot condition, there are a wide variety of exercise options that do not unduly aggravate a pre-existing foot condition.
Skin Related Foot Conditions
The most common foot conditions are skin related irritations and fungal. These conditions are often the product of footwear choices or a lapse in efficacious hygiene.
In the broadest possible strokes, skin related foot conditions are most easily avoided by scrupulously cleaning your feet and frequently laundering socks and managing the moisture to which footwear is exposed. Additionally, patients can avoid irritations by choosing footwear that is not abrasive to any portion of the foot given the patient's natural gait.
Athlete's foot is a fungus that grows best in places that are warm, dark, and moist. For this reason, athlete's foot occurs most commonly beneath the feet or between the toes of particularly active people whose shoes and socks are often sweaty from exertion. The condition is characterized by scaly, white rash protruding from the red base of the rash.
The rash typically afflicts patients by peeling, causing a burning sensation, and having a slightly malodorous aspect. Patients can avoid athlete's foot altogether by meticulously cleaning the feet and laundering socks with increased frequency. Numerous over-the-counter treatment options generally preclude the need to resort to prescription treatment.
Blisters are the painful, soft pockets of skin that fill with clear liquid, usually based on an unadvisable footwear decision. The easiest solution to a recurrent blister problem is to phase out whatever footwear is leading to the blisters. For some patients, beauty takes priority over pain. In this case, patients should avoid picking at their blisters and instead drain them properly.
To drain a blister the patient must use a sterilized needle to puncture the blister at the lowest possible point, this way gravity will contribute to drainage. Then, the patient must apply minimal pressure until the blister has drained as much as possible, treat the affected area with an over-the-counter antibiotic, and bandage snuggly.
Corns and Calluses
Corns and calluses on the feet are an irritation caused by a bony portion of the foot continually rubbing against the interior of an ill-fitting shoe. These irritations can occur on the sides, bottom, or top of the foot depending on the gait and footwear decisions of the patient in question.
Outside of acquiring less restrictive footwear, patients can line whatever portion of the shoe is causing an irritation with moleskin which provides relief in most patients. It is essential patients do not attempt to remove their own corns or calluses. In the limited instances in which a professional podiatrist must remove corns or calluses.
An ingrown toenail grows at an angle that conflicts with the flesh on either side of the toe, resulting in a painful irritation. Ingrown toenails can occur due to a variety of factors including pressure from footwear, previous fungal maladies, a poor skeletal structure of the foot, or an irregular gait, but the most common cause of ingrown toenails is simply improper trimming.
A toenail that is regularly cut too short is more likely to grow on a track inconsistent with the structure of the foot as a whole. Patients can amend their hygiene habits to reflect this relationship and thereby avoid, or at least decrease the likelihood, of emergent ingrown toenails.
Toenail fungi is like athlete's foot in that it grows based on exposure to dark, warm, and moist areas. These areas are common in the socks and shoes of patients who spend undue amounts of time sweating into tight-fitting shoes or who spend substantial amounts of time walking barefoot in wet environments like locker rooms or swimming pools.
The contraction of a toenail fungus is obvious because of the unattractive coloration that spreads from toe to toe if left untreated. The best preventative measure is the avoidance of damp or wet areas as much as is possible.
Structural Issues and Deformities
For foot conditions that are a product of a lack of structural integrity in the foot or a deformity that has compromised durability, there are limited treatment options. Patients can always use over-the-counter pain relievers to manage their pain, some conditions can be treated with shoe inserts, but often the only option for long-term resolution of the condition is surgery. Early detection is the patient's best option for finding a care solution without going under the knife.
When the second, third, or fourth toe of a patient crosses over the next toe closer to the largest toe, the patient has a hammer toe. This condition is also characterized by a bend in the middle of the joint in which the toe rises from the foot to the center of the toe and descends from there to the toenail.
Hammer toe is often the product of abrasive footwear which is correctable with over-the-counter or prescription shoe inserts. In its earlier stages, this foot condition is highly responsive to treatment but, left untreated, the condition will become permanent.
Bunions are characterized by a protrusion of the ball of the big toe toward the opposite foot, creating the shape of an arrow on the instep of the foot. Bunions are often acquired hereditarily or as a side effect of arthritis, but there have been documented cases of bunions based on physical trauma to the foot.
The key to preserving comfort in day-to-day activity for patients with bunions is comfortable, spacious footwear that applies the least possible pressure to the affected area. The only viable treatment option for this foot condition is corrective surgery.
When a patient has claw toe, their toes curl up at the joints where the foot meets the toes and curl downward at the ends of the toes, resulting in an appearance that is startlingly similar to a question mark. This foot condition is similar to, and hence easily confused with, hammer toe.
This condition is frequently caused by footwear, nerve damage, and occasionally diabetes-related health implications. Claw toe causes calluses or corns in most patients. Pain management is possible with specialized footwear but, again, the only corrective option is surgery.
Mallet toe is foot condition similar to, but distinct from, both hammer toe and claw toe. The condition is characterized by a bulge in the last joint of the toe. This can make it appear the toes are crossing, a sign of hammer toe, or that the toes are curling, a sign of claw toe.
This condition often causes a painful callus or calluses. Mallet toe is often a byproduct of arthritis but can be caused by physical trauma to the foot as well.
Gout is an arthritic condition caused by the accumulation of uric acid and joint fluid in the joint tissue, usually in the of the ball of the big toe but possibly in any joint in the foot. When afflicted by gout, the joint will grow red, inflamed, and warm to the touch in painful phases.
To manage pain related to gout patients must wear the most spacious possible footwear and avoid physical activity. Bouts of gout are frequently brought on by trigger foods that patients should identify and avoid. The only other treatment option with any correlation to pain relief is hydration.
Internal Structural Issues
Plantar fasciitis and heel spurs are two closely related but distinct foot conditions that are highly correlated with instances of one another. In fact, 70% of patients with plantar fasciitis are simultaneously suffering from heel spurs.
Furthermore, both conditions are challenging to identify at all, hence confusion between the two conditions and missed, or erroneous diagnoses are common. Fortunately, both conditions present manageable pain that patients can regulate by amending their routines, adopting changes in footwear, and using over-the-counter pain medication.
The name of the tissue that connects the balls of the feet with the heel is fascia. When a patient's fascia becomes inflamed, the patient is suffering from plantar fasciitis which is very painful for patients, particularly during their first steps of the day. Patients experience pain in their heels which generally abates as the day progresses. Treatment options are limited, but the pain is fairly easy to manage provided the patient can avoid activities that put stress and the heel.
Heel spurs are small bones that grow out of the back and bottom of the heel. The bones themselves do not cause any irritation, but the inflammation in the surrounding tissue is tremendously painful. This foot condition is common in patients who are currently or have previously suffered from plantar fasciitis. As we have mentioned, the similarity between the symptoms of the two-foot conditions makes instances of confusion very common.
Foot conditions are mostly readily treatable by patients willing to incorporate the simple parameters for long-term maintenance of their feet and thereby their mobility into the most mundane aspects of their lifestyle. Categorizing foot conditions is relatively simple; maladies are either a skin-related condition, a deformity, or an internal inflammation. Each of these categories and the conditions therein heavily depends on hygiene and footwear.
Footwear that irritates, applies pressure to or confines the foot unduly will ultimately cause a foot condition in the skin or a deformity. Footwear is also a vital tool to manage pain in patients with inflammation caused by any category of the disease. Hygiene is essential to your dermatological health, and this is equally true regarding skin conditions in the feet. By thinking carefully about these simple principals, patients can avoid and treat simple foot conditions and take their more grievous concerns to a podiatrist.