Like most people, you might be taking your feet for granted, thinking that foot pain, blisters, bunions, and calluses are a normal part of life. However, you may not realize that your feet are often the first parts of the body to be affected by nerve and circulation problems due to their distance from the heart and spine. Also, aches and discomfort can affect your quality of life, daily function, and overall health and so you must always treat foot care as an integral part of your health care.
Every adult should make it a habit to perform regular foot checks and to treat existing problems before they interfere with your daily life.
What Is Proper Foot Care?
Poor circulation of the feet, certain medical conditions such as diabetes and arthritis, ill-fitting footwear, incorrect toenail trimming, and years of wear and tear contribute to most common foot problems. Consequently, proper foot care starts with checking your feet regularly and practicing good foot hygiene.
Should you experience persistent aches and pain, visit your primary care physician or podiatrist. Both are well-qualified to treat most foot problems. However, some issues are best treated by dermatologists or orthopedic surgeons, depending on the underlying cause. In this case, your primary care physician or podiatrist can often refer you to these specialists.
Here is the list of ways to perform proper foot care:
1. Regularly Check Your Feet
Not every foot problem causes pain or discomfort. This is particularly true for someone with diabetes and nerve damage who may not feel any ache despite the presence of red spots, non-healing sores, cuts, infected toenails, and swelling. For this reason, check your feet every day.
If you have trouble bending over to check your feet, use a plastic mirror or ask a family member or caregiver to help you.
2. Practice Good Foot Hygiene
Good hygiene is an essential part of daily foot care. The general rule of thumb is to wash your feet in warm water. Then, dry them well, making sure that the area between your toes is thoroughly dry to prevent fungal infection. You may also use talcum powder to keep your skin between your toes dry, which is particularly important if you’re prone to athlete’s foot.
Tip: Aside from talcum powder, you may also use cornstarch or baking soda, although medicated powder provides better protection against fungus, including athlete’s foot.
3. Keep Your Blood Sugar Level Within Normal Range
Uncontrolled diabetes is one of the leading causes of serious foot problems that include non-healing wounds and infection. If left untreated, these wounds and infections can lead to amputation. In addition, common foot problems such as calluses, corns, and blisters may lead to serious complications.
If you have diabetes, it is critical to keep your blood sugar level close to normal through medications, healthy diet, exercise, and regular foot checks performed by your physician or podiatrist. For a healthy diet, eat more low fat, higher fiber foods such as vegetables and fruits, and this will help keep your blood sugar levels in check.
4. Hydrate Your Skin
If your heels are significantly dry and cracked, visit a dermatologist or podiatrist for a prescription cream. But for mild dryness, over-the-counter moisturizing products are often enough to solve the problem.
Tip: Rub a thin coat of petroleum jelly or any cream that contains hydrating ingredients such as lactic acid on the top and bottom of your feet. However, avoid getting any product between your toes because this might cause fungal growth.
5. Take Care of Your Calluses and Corns
If you have calluses, which are a build-up of hard skin usually on the underside of the foot, you may want to use heel pads and insoles in your shoes. In addition, you can use a pumice stone to remove the build-up of tissue. There are also prescribed medications to soften calluses.
Corns, meanwhile, are a build-up of hard skin between toes or near a bony area of a toe. They require the same care as the calluses.
Tip: Exfoliate your calluses and corns with a pumice stone. Rub the stone gently against the hardened skin in one direction only to avoid tearing it. Afterward, use a hydrating cream on your heel. Never cut or remove corns and calluses with any sharp object.
6. Proper Footwear Is a Critical Part of Foot Care
When buying shoes, be sure your feet are comfortable in them and that they provide enough room for your toes. It is usually best to choose a footwear made of leather or canvas because it allows the skin to “breathe.”
Conversely, avoid shoes made of plastic or vinyl because they don’t stretch nor allow your feet to "breathe." Also, avoid designs with high heels and pointed toes since they put too much pressure on your toes.
Tip: Don’t walk barefoot because you might step on something and hurt your feet. In addition, always make it a habit to wear clean socks (ideally made of wool or cotton) with your shoes to avoid sores and blisters.
7. Trim Your Toenails Correctly
Ingrown toenails, which might progress into inflammation or even infection with abscess formation, are primarily caused by incorrect trimming. To prevent this problem, trim your toenails straight across instead of rounding them to fit the shape of the toe; this allows the nail edges to grow over the surrounding tissue rather than dig into the flesh.
Tip: If you have trouble bending over, you can’t see well, or your toenails are thick and deformed, have a foot care doctor trim them for you.
8. Exercise Regularly
Certain exercises are easy on your feet such as swimming, bicycling, and walking. Conversely, avoid or limit activities that put too much strain on your foot and knee like jumping and running.
Tip: When doing physical activities, wear athletic shoes that provide adequate support and are comfortable.
9. Take Care of the Blood Circulation in Your Feet
Avoid wearing tight or ill-fitting socks and garters around your legs. Don’t sit or stand for too long. You could walk around and stretch at least every 20 minutes of sitting at a computer. Another way to get the blood circulating is to wiggle your toes and rotate your ankles 2-3 times a day. Try to avoid crossing your legs for long periods of time. Make sure to keep your blood pressure at a normal level (with the help of your doctor) and avoid smoking.
10. Check with Your Doctor
If you have diabetes or blood circulation disorder, ask your doctor to conduct foot checks regularly. He or she should also give you comprehensive advice on proper foot care.
11. Fight fungus
Basic foot care and hygiene is the best way to prevent fungal infections. A good rule of thumb is to wash your feet frequently and dry them thoroughly, particularly between your toes. In addition, wear clean socks every day.
Fungus grows in damp environments, resulting in athlete’s foot, toenail fungus, and other similar conditions.
Tip: If you have a mild case of athlete’s foot, you may use over-the-counter antifungal treatments that come in different formulations—e.g., lotions, powder, spray liquids, and creams. For more severe cases, you will have to see your doctor for a prescription to fight off the infection.
Why Is It So Important to Care for Your Feet?
If your feet hurt or you suffer from some type of foot problem, you’ll most likely not be able to function at your best. It not only interferes with your work and affects your productivity, but it may also cause you to change your posture, balance, and gait, further aggravating aches and pains. You use your feet to perform daily life functions, so even a simple cut or blister on your foot is enough to affect the quality of your life.
In addition, good foot care is the key to your overall health, especially as you get older. If you have trouble walking due to pain, discomfort, or tenderness in any part of your foot, it may result in reduced physical activity, which ultimately puts you at risk of obesity, cognitive decline, heart disease, loss of muscle mass, and other health issues closely tied to a sedentary lifestyle.
How Can You Start Taking Better Care of Your Feet?
To reiterate, basic foot care and regular foot checks can prevent and treat the most common problems affecting your feet. But if you have a more serious condition such as a non-healing wound, parched and cracked heels, persistent pain and tenderness, or you have a chronic health issue (diabetes and poor blood circulation) that predisposes you to foot problems, a healthcare professional should always check your feet regularly.
Every time you check your feet, watch out for signs such as unnatural skin or nail color, yellowed, brittle, and/or thickened toenails, hairless feet and toes, and dry skin. Numbness, tenderness, tingling or burning sensation, and pain should also be a cause for concern. We've listed the signs of some of the most common foot conditions to help you better identify what foot issues you are facing.
Corns and Calluses
They are thick layers of tissue caused by constant rubbing of your skin against the shoes. When they become too big, they can result in pain and discomfort.
These are bumps on the outside of your big toe that are sometimes painless. However, many people with this condition also experience discomfort, inflammation, tenderness, and irritation that may worsen with advancing age.
Fungal Skin Infection
Its common symptoms include flaky, peeling, or itchy skin. Take note that fungus thrives in a damp and dark environment and so it is a sacrosanct rule to dry your foot thoroughly, especially between the toes.
Fungal toenails can be a painful condition; they are also harder to treat than athlete’s foot. Failure to treat them promptly can lead to cracking, thickening, yellowing, and even nails literally falling off.
The symptoms of foot eczema are similar to a fungal skin infection. However, some people also experience blisters on the soles of their feet, redness, and pain. A skin sample can pinpoint the underlying cause.
Hand and Feet Psoriasis
Psoriasis is a chronic autoimmune disorder that causes the rapid production of skin cells, which results in scaling, red patches, cracks, blisters, and inflammation. The symptoms are most evident on the palm and soles of the feet.
The condition usually affects the second toe that becomes permanently curled or out of line with the other toes. The use of ill-fitting shoes over time is the usual culprit behind this issue.
Heel pain is often caused by spurs that result in pain on the bottom of your foot that is usually more apparent when walking, and by plantar fasciitis that results in discomfort especially when you stand.
Aging feet, use of ill-fitting shoes for long periods of time, and abnormally high arches (or its opposite, flat foot) can lead to pain and discomfort.
The condition causes severe pain that can interfere with your walking, especially when the tendon that runs vertically from the heel becomes inflamed.
Skin Growth and Cancers
While your feet are not as exposed to the sun as other areas of your body, you should still check for spots that change in shape, color, or size, which might be a sign of skin cancer. Other things you should look for include blood vessel tumors, skin discoloration, and plantar warts.
Arthritis-Related Foot Problem
People with arthritis should be extra judicious in their foot care regimen. Arthritis-related foot problems include rigid joints, swelling, stiffness, painful joint malformations, intense pain, and chronic dislocation.
The condition is caused by an inflamed nerve that results in cramping in the front of your foot and tingling or burning sensations in the said area.
Diabetic Foot Problems
Ingrown toenails, cut, blisters, and sores may quickly progress into foot ulcers, which can predispose you to amputation if you have diabetes. In fact, the vast majority of diabetic patients who required this surgery could have avoided it with better monitoring of early signs.
Tarsal Tunnel Syndrome
This condition causes pain, numbness, and tingling sensation along the bottom of your foot; these symptoms tend to be more apparent at night.
Frequent Foot Cramping
Frequent and randomly occurring foot cramping is often a sign of dehydration and nutritional deficiencies. Hence, you should be drinking more fluids when exercising since dehydration causes muscle cramps. You could also increase your intake of calcium, magnesium, and potassium through a healthy diet or supplements. But if the cramps remain persistent, visit your doctor who may recommend tests to rule out nerve damage and circulation disorder.
Nerve and Circulation Problems
Because of the distance between your feet and heart and spine, they are usually the first area of the body to manifest problems and symptoms associated with nerve and circulation disorder. Numbness, tingling sensation, and frequent cramping are just some of the most common symptoms to watch out for.
Meanwhile, foot problems and their symptoms are closely tied to these risk factors:
Foot care is an integral part of your overall health care. Even the slightest pain and discomfort may be enough to interfere with your daily functions and physical activities, which can predispose you to a higher risk of obesity, postural problem, and other health issues. Hence, even though many people dismiss foot pain as a normal part of life, one’s inability to address this issue could easily snowball into more serious complications, and ultimately, poor quality of life.
Because persistent or chronic foot pain can significantly interfere with your walking and other daily functions, it is important to address the underlying issue immediately in case it snowballs into something more serious. A sedentary lifestyle is one of the leading causes of obesity, which is tied to a wide range of health problems such as coronary artery and vascular diseases, stroke, certain types of cancer, heart attack, diabetes, and high blood pressure.
Unfortunately, obesity makes heel pain and tendinitis more serve because of the additional pressure on your knees, ankles, and feet. If you have diabetes or any other health conditions that compromise your healing, proper foot care is particularly important because you’re already susceptible to foot ulcers, non-healing infection, and other chronic problems that when left untreated could lead to foot or leg amputation.
Diabetes and nerve disorders are also linked to numbness, which could make it difficult to identify blisters, sores, cuts, and infection. Ask your general physician, specialist, or podiatrist to perform regular foot checks to prevent serious complications.
If you think your feet need extra attention, visit a podiatrist who can provide you with a customized foot care treatment plan, which typically includes shoe fitting and foot screening.