While it’s easy to overlook the importance of proper foot care, anyone who has had a foot-related problem can attest that it interfered with their daily life functions or even the quality of their life. In addition, your feet can reveal a lot about your general health since their distance from the heart and spine makes them prone to signs of nerve damage and blood circulation disorders. In this article, we talk about the most surprising health facts regarding common foot problems that are actually just manifestations of a more serious health condition.
What Your Feet Reveal about Your Overall Health
Read on the list of foot problems, some of which may seem like an innocuous inconvenience but are actually a manifestation of some serious health issues that require prompt medical attention.
Random and Frequent Foot Cramping
Frequent foot cramping is not uncommon in patients with blood circulation disorder and nerve damage. However, this might also be a sign of less serious problems such as nutritional deficiency or dehydration.
If your doctor rules out nerve and circulation issues, he may recommend a blood test to determine if you have some type of nutritional deficiency. If this is the case, increasing your intake of calcium, potassium, magnesium, and other essential micronutrients will most likely improve your frequent foot cramping.
But when your cramping often occurs during hot days or while doing your exercise routine, dehydration might be the culprit. Hence, make it a habit to drink plenty of water before, during, and after exercise, so your body will perform at its optimal level, and you avoid muscle cramps and dizziness.
Tip: Room-temperature water hydrates better than cold water because it is more easily absorbed by the body, even though the latter seems to quench your thirst faster (blame your brain’s preference for this).
Diabetes compromises one’s healing because the uncontrolled sugar levels constrict the blood vessels, therefore nutrient- and oxygen-rich blood does not reach the injured skin effectively. This results in non-healing wounds and infection, which if left untreated could progress into an amputation.
Diabetic patients require proper foot care and regular foot checks to avoid serious complications and loss of limb. About three-fourths of diabetic sufferers who had amputation could have avoided the surgery with early monitoring and detection. The risk of diabetic foot can be avoided or at least minimized with medications and healthy lifestyle choices.
Aside from diabetes, a non-healing wound may also be a sign of skin cancer. Hence, if you have a strong family history of melanoma, have your physician inspect your feet during your regular skin checks.
Toe and finger clubbing, i.e., swelling of the tissue, are common health facts of lung cancer and heart disease. Other possible causes include Celiac disease, cancer involving the liver and gastrointestinal tract, dysentery, cirrhosis, and other liver-related diseases, chronic lung infection, Graves disease, Hodgkin lymphoma, and overactive thyroid gland.
Because it is a health fact that your lung and heart play a critical role in blood circulation, certain diseases that affect their functions may cause increase blood flow to the small arteries in the toes and fingers, which results in swelling of the tissue.
Perpetually Cold Feet
We are not talking about getting cold feet because of nervousness. If your tootsies are perpetually cold, it is a health fact that your thyroid may not be secreting enough hormones that play a critical role in regulating your body temperature, metabolism, and even mood.
Other health facts about this condition, which is medically referred to as hypothyroidism: it causes unexplained weight gain, hair thinning or loss, lethargy, and mood swing/depression.
Scaly, Peeling, and Itchy Skin
Fungal infection such as athlete’s foot is one of the most common causes of peeling, flaky, and itchy skin on feet. Oftentimes, it starts around or between the toes before it spreads to other parts of your foot.
Basic foot care and hygiene is the key to prevent the onset of Athlete’s foot, which is caused by fungi that thrive in damp and dark environments. For this reason, be sure to you wash your feet every day and dry them thoroughly, particularly between your toes; always wear clean socks with your shoes; and avoid walking barefoot in damp common areas such as saunas, spas, and locker rooms.
Oftentimes, athlete’s foot is easily treated by over-the-counter antifungal creams or powder.
Other possible health issues, like flaky, itchy, and/or peeling skin, can come from shoe contact dermatitis or dyshidrotic eczema, in which your skin is allergic to common materials such as glues, leather, dye, and/or rubber; psoriasis, which is a chronic autoimmune disease; and trench foot, which happens when you wear wet socks for a long period of time.
Bald Feet and Toes
This might be a symptom of arterial disease in which not enough blood flow reaches your lower extremities. Aside from bald feet and toes, other common signs of peripheral arterial disease or PAD include thin or shiny skin and purplish toes.
To diagnose the problem, doctors check for a healthy pulse in the foot and recommend an X-ray to see the condition of the arteries.
Sudden Enlargement of the Big Toe
More often than not, this is a sign of gout or other types of inflammatory issue. This symptom is often associated with red, painful, and swollen joints.
If gout is the culprit behind the sudden enlargement of your big toe, avoid foods high in purine, which is a chemical compound found in fish, red meat, and alcohol. This compound raises the uric acid levels in the body, which could be deposited in the joints, leading to swelling of the big toe, pain, redness.
Aside from the health facts of a low-purine diet for long-term prevention, patients with gout may also find short-term relief from anti-inflammatory drugs. Additional health facts: The aforementioned symptoms may also indicate severe infection, trauma, or inflammatory arthritis.
Red Streaks Beneath the Toenails
This might be a sign of heart infection or endocarditis that may cause broken blood vessels, which are medically referred to as hemorrhages. People who are at an increased risk of endocarditis have a heart illness, have a compromised immune system (e.g., those with cancer, HIV, and diabetes), and have received a pacemaker.
If you see red streaks underneath your toenails or fingernails even though you haven’t experienced any trauma to your nail, this call for immediate medical attention because endocarditis can result in heart failure if left untreated.
In many cases, yellowed toenails are caused by aging or pedicure overload—i.e., wearing nail polish for months without a break. But if the discoloration is accompanied by flaking and brittleness, it might be a sign of athlete’s foot or other types of fungal infection.
If you have spoon-shaped toenails, this might be a sign of iron deficiency or its opposite hemochromatosis (i.e., overproduction of iron). This may also indicate lupus, a type of autoimmune disease in which the body’s immune system attacks tissues and organs; and Raynaud’s disease, which affects the blood supply to toes and fingers.
Onset of High-Arched Foot
High arches are usually caused by a nerve or bone condition. Over time, it can result in pain because of the excessive stress on the ball and heel of the foot; the ache may even radiate up to the ankle, leg, and even hip.
Aside from debilitating pain, high-arched foot also leads to instability, calluses on the ball, heel, and side of the foot, and hammertoes (i.e., bent toes).
Health Facts That You May Not Realize Are Directly Related to Feet
Your general health relies heavily on your feet, which allows you to stay active and perform daily life function. Aside from proper foot care and regular foot checks, it is important to stick to a healthy lifestyle because your tootsies are usually the first area of the body to show signs of nerve damage and circulation disease because of their distance from the heart and spine.
Other Health Facts and Tips for Healthy Feet
Perform Regular Foot Checks
Every week, perform a foot self-exam ideally after taking a shower or bath. Look for redness, cuts, blisters, swelling, unusual discoloration of the skin and nail, and scaling. Be sure that you thoroughly inspect between your toes where fungal infections often first develop.
If you can’t see very well or you have trouble bending over to check your foot, use a plastic mirror or ask your caregiver to help you. But if you have diabetic foot and other medical conditions that make you extra susceptible to foot-related problems, you’ll need regular foot check-up performed by a medical professional—e.g., general physician, specialist, or podiatrist.
Practice Good Hygiene
Wash your feet every day and thoroughly dry them especially between the toes. Also make it a habit to wear clean socks--ideally made of wool, cotton, or manmade fiber blends designed to draw moisture away from your skin--with your shoes.
Fight Fungal Infection
Fungi thrive in damp and dark environments. For this reason, thoroughly dry your feet particularly between your toes before you wear your shoes. You may also want to use talcum powder, baking soda, or cornstarch to inhibit fungal growth.
Also, avoid going barefoot when walking in damp public areas such as saunas and spas because athlete’s foot is contagious and can spread through direct contact with the infected skin or by skin particles on floors, socks, shoes, and towels. Consequently, you should also avoid sharing footgear.
Most cases of athlete’s foot are easily treated by over the counter antifungal creams or powder. But if it recurs, or the fungal infection also affects the nail, you may need a stronger prescription medication.
Trim Your Toenails Properly
Trim your nails straight across as opposed to rounding them to fit the shape of your toes. Doing so will prevent the edges of your nail from digging into the flesh as they will grow over the tissue.
Wear the “Right” Shoes
The right shoes are made of a breathable and flexible material (e.g., canvas and leather) and provide enough room for your toes. Take note that pointy toes, high heels, and shoes that are too tight are linked to a wide array of foot-problems such as heel pain, hammertoes (bend toes), blisters and sores, calluses and corns, and ingrown toenails.
Surprising health facts: Women are about four times more likely to report foot ailments compared to men probably due to the growing popularity of high heels, which were first worn by Persian warriors but were later adopted by European men in the 17th century. Conversely, men are more likely to take their foot problems less seriously.
Fight Sweat with These Health Facts
The sweat glands in your feet can produce up to half a pint of sweat in a single day. While perspiration is your body’s way of regulating its temperature, it creates a perfect environment for bacteria and fungi. For this reason, always wear socks with your shoes to prevent excessive moisture.
If your feet perspire too much, you may want to consider washing them with antibacterial soap every day and making sure that you thoroughly dry them before you apply foot or antifungal powder. In addition, wear socks made of natural fibers (e.g., wool and cotton) or manmade fiber blends that are specifically designed to draw moisture away from your skin instead of trapping it.
Seek Medical Attention
If pain, blisters, sores, itchiness, redness, swelling, or tenderness on your foot persists for several days, or if you see unusual changes in your skin, nails, or overall foot structure, seek medical attention. Never attempt to self-treat persistent problems, especially if you are already aware of your underlying condition—e.g., diabetes, heart problem, nerve damage, circulation issue, among others.
Perform Exercises That Are Easy on Your Feet
Walking, dancing, swimming, yoga, Pilates, elliptical training, cycling, cross training, suspension training, and even gardening are easy and gentle on your feet and knees. Avoid high-impact exercises such as running and jumping if you’re taking a break due to fatigue, physical injury, or over-training.
Before you exercise, a thorough warm-up routine is ideal to prevent injuries, and this includes injuries to the feet. One of those well-known "health facts" that actually isn't true is that you should do static stretching before you exercise. Actually, static stretching shouldn’t be done before doing physical activities; instead, leave it for the cool down.
The best warm-up routine involves dynamic movement and stretching, such as high knees, toe touches, and walking lunges. Another possible alternative is to perform a few short intervals of your exercise program at a lower intensity. he goal is to loosen your muscle and joints, raise your body temperature, and get your heart pumping.
When doing physical activities, always listen to your body. If something aches, probably you are over-training yourself, your posture or movement is incorrect, or you’re overstraining your body.
To prevent foot injuries, wear athletic sports (and replace them when they are worn down), avoid or at least minimize running on uneven surfaces, and slowly build up your strength and flexibility.
Should you experience any type of foot injury, make sure that you receive appropriate treatment and never rush your recovery.
Important Tips for People with Poor Blood Circulation
Certain medical conditions such as diabetes, deep vein thrombosis, edema, and venous insufficiency cause poor blood circulation. Due to the distance of the feet from the heart, they are the first area of the body to show symptoms. These symptoms typically include numbness, swelling, skin discoloration, non-healing wound, pain, frequent cramping, persistent coldness, among others.
Other health issues that may compromise your circulation include obesity, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure.
If you have poor circulation, it is critical that you manage your medical condition through a healthy lifestyle that should always include regular exercise and well-balanced diet. Other things that can help you avoid or at least minimize the risk of foot-related problems are explained below:
The quality of your life, including your ability to perform daily life functions, depend primarily on your feet. After all, even the slightest ache may be enough to prevent you from functioning at your best. In addition, foot pain may force you to modify your gait and posture, which results in a higher risk of injury, falling, and systemic body discomfort.
In addition, discomfort and pain in your foot can prevent you from engaging in physical activities. This alone can snowball into more serious problems since sedentary lifestyle is closely tied to obesity, which can lead to heart disease and stroke, high blood pressure, diabetes, certain types of cancer, and artery-related diseases.
The snowball effect of obesity further aggravates foot pain because of the additional stress on your ankle, heel, and knee. Know the health facts that affect your feet, and keep an eye out for important warnings signs.