From eating better foods to getting an adequate amount of sleep and exercise, we live in a very health-conscious society. So why is it that many Americans routinely overlook one of the cornerstones of good health? While nearly 70 percent of Americans say they want to be healthier five years from now, just 51 percent recognize that foot health can be a key to achieving that goal, according to a survey from the American Podiatric Medical Association (APMA).
“Nearly eight in 10 adults have experienced some type of foot ailment in their lives. Yet despite the pain, close to three in 10 do nothing about it, simply choosing to live with their pain,” says Denise Elliott, DPM, a podiatrist at Foot and Ankle Center and APMA member. “Meanwhile, more than half of those surveyed said they had endured foot pain at some point in their lives but have not sought treatment from a podiatrist.”
So what are the five most common types of foot problems, and what causes them? Here are some tips from today’s podiatrists:
- Nail problems are one of the most prevalent foot woes in both men and women. These problems can range from ingrown toenails to fungal infections. “Ingrown toenails—a condition in which the corners of sides of a nail dig painfully into the soft tissue of the nail grooves—is the most common form of nail problem,” Dr. Elliott says. To avoid ingrown toenails, trim nails straight across and don’t dig into the corners. If a toenail becomes infected, see a podiatrist immediately for treatment. Those with diabetes, peripheral vascular disease, and other circulatory disorders should seek a podiatrist’s care on a regular basis to help prevent complications.
- Sweaty feet and foot odor are two foot conditions that are often experienced together. While stinky feet are definitely embarrassing, feet that sweat excessively can lead to other foot problems, even creating an environment conducive to the development of athlete’s foot. Closed shoes make feet sweat, but in the winter you can’t avoid wearing them. Instead, practice good foot hygiene. Wash feet daily with soap and water, keep shoes and socks dry, and choose socks that wick away moisture. Change shoes and socks regularly and consider rubbing cornstarch or applying antiperspirant directly onto the soles of your feet.
- Pain in the ball of the feet — Nearly one-third of adults have reported pain in the balls of their feet. Pain in this location can be caused by over-exertion, injury, or ill-fitting shoes. To avoid pain, always wear well-fitting, supportive, activity-appropriate shoes when walking, running, or engaging in other physical activity. If necessary, replace the insoles that came in your shoes with ones that provide additional cushioning.
- Heel pain — This type of pain can have many sources, including weight gain, excessive foot flattening, muscle imbalance, injury, or even improper footwear. To kick heel pain to the curb, always be sure to warm up and stretch properly before and after exercise. If wearing high heels, opt for heels that are no more than two to three inches in height. For persistent pain, treatment can range from prescribed orthotic devices and medications to cortisone injections, physical therapy, and rarely, surgery.
- Bunions — A bunion is an enlargement of the joint at the base of the big toe. Treatments range from self-remedies such as using a bunion pad around the bony prominence, to ice packs to reduce the swelling, and to avoiding shoes that could irritate the bunion and even make the problem worse. For persistent pain, see a podiatrist for a full range of treatment options.
“While foot problems are common, that doesn’t mean people should be resigned to living with pain,” Dr. Elliott says. “Consulting today’s podiatrist can help people feel better sooner, and get back to living healthier lives.”
Denise Elliott, DPM, is a podiatrist at Foot and Ankle Center in Marerro, LA. Call 504-349-6633 or visit http://footandanklenola.com to make an appointment. Visit www.apma.org to learn more about foot health and care.