Looking after your feet

Summer feet with a flower

Your feet are a complex and vital part of your body. If you want to remain mobile and pain free you need to look after them properly.

The following is a brief guide to some of the issues you may face with your feet and some basic advice as to what you need to do. If in any doubt, please consult a qualified Chiropodist or your GP.

Nail Cutting and reducing thickened nails – if you have thickened nails you will notice they are usually thicker on the upper part and some people often find the nail becomes yellowish and the nail edges fall apart. The most common problems with thickened nails are pain and discomfort wearing socks and shoes. A thickened nail is more common as we age and it will then be increasingly difficult to cut your own toenails unformily and safely as the nail becomes thicker and more rigid. If your nails are left untreated the condition can worsen and develop into a condition called Onychogryphosis (commonly known as Ram’s Horn nails) Most thickened nails will benefit from regular treatment by a Chiropodist to enable effective foot care management.

Bunions – a bunion is a painful bony lump that develops on the side of the foot next to the big toe. Surgery is often the only way of getting rid of them but there are many things you can do to ease the pain. This can include wearing shoes that are wide and have a soft sole, holding an ice pack to the bunion for up to 5 minutes, wearing bunion pads or taking paracetamol. Do not wear tight, pointy shoes or high heels if you have bunions.. Ensure you consult a foot practitioner if the pain has not improved after a few weeks or if the pain is getting worse and stopping you from doing your normal daily activities.  A podiatrist can advise you about supports such as insoles (orthotics) or toe spacers (splints)

Athlete’s Foot – is a common fungal infection that affects the feet and can be caught from other people with the infection such as in showers and changing rooms. Symptoms can include; itchy, white patches between the toes; red, sore, flaky patches on the feet or skin that may crack or bleed. It can also affect the soles and sides of the feet. If the infection is not treated it can spread to your toenails and cause a fungal nail infection. Athlete’s foot is unlikely to get better on it’s own but there are many different treatments available over the counter such as creams, sprays and powders. You should seek the advice from your Chiropodist if treatments from a pharmacy do not work, if you are in a lot of discomfort, your foot is red, hot and painful or if you have diabetes or a weakened immune system.

Ingrowing Toenails – is a common problem where the nail grows into the toe and it can be painful but there are many things that can ease the pain. An ingrowing toenail will most usually affect the big toe but you can get them on any of your toes. Your toe may become red, swollen and painful and your toenail may curve into your toe or become infected. A Chiropodist will advise not to cut the toenail but to let it grow out and not to wear shoes that are too tight. If the nail is infected, a course of antibiotics will be prescribed. A Podiatrist will offer further treatment such as surgery to cut away part of the nail or remove the whole nail completely. To prevent an ingrowing toenail it is advisable not to cut your toenails too short, to cut straight across the nail and not to wear tight, badly fitting shoes.

Corns – are thick hard areas of skin that are painful but not often serious. They are mostly found on the feet, toes.. The most common causes of corns are wearing badly fitting shoes, not wearing socks with shoes, lifting heavy weights and walking barefoot. If you have a corn, it is advisable to wear thick cushioned socks, wide soft sole shoes, regularly soak corns in warm water and moisturise often. Do not try to cut the corns off yourself. If you have diabetes or heart disease, if the corn has a discharge or not improve after a few weeks, then a GP or Chiropodist should be consulted. A foot specialist may offer treatments such as cutting away the corn or make specialist insoles to alleviate the pain.

Callus/hard skin removal – a callus is an extended area of thickened hard skin on the soles of the feet. They are usually caused by inappropriate footwear, a bony deformity or because of a particular way of walking. Older people have more of a tendency to develop callus on the balls of the feet due to having less fatty tissue in their skin. A podiatrist can alleviate any possible pain caused by having a callus by removing any excess hard skin and redistributing the pressure by supplying corrective appliances and padding that fit easily into shoes. Using emollient creams will also help the callus from building up and will improve the skins’ natural elasticity. A gentle rub of the hard skin with a pumice stone or foot file when you are in the bath will help to soften thickened skin. Do not self-treat if you have diabetes or poor circulation, always seek the help of a foot specialist.

Chilblains – are small, itchy, red patches that can appear when you have been in the cold. They usually clear up on their own but you may have to see a GP or specialist if they don’t go away. Chilblains usually appear a few hours after being in the cold and are mostly found on the fingers and toes, although you can also get them on the face and legs. There are things you can do to help chilblains go away such as taking pain relief, avoiding being outside when it’s cold and damp and wearing warm waterproof clothing in cold conditions. If your skin doesn’t clear after a few weeks or you have a high temperature then you should consult your GP or foot specialist.

Verrucae – appear on your feet and have tiny black dots under the hard skin. They are caused by a virus and are spread to other people from contaminated surfaces or through close skin contact. You are more likely to spread a verruca if your skin is wet or damaged. Verrucas can be very painful and may feel like you are standing on a needle. Over the counter creams, plasters and sprays can be purchased but it can often take up to 3 months for verrucas to go away. It is advisable to change your socks daily and cover a verruca when swimming as verrucas are highly contagious.  A GP may be able to freeze a verruca so it falls off a few weeks later. If this treatment has not worked a GP may refer you to a skin specialist to access minor surgery or laser treatment.

Warts – are small lumps on the skin that can often go away on their own. They feel firm and rough and appear on palms, knuckles, knees and fingers. Clusters of warts spread over an area of skin are called mosaic warts and are common on feet and hands.Warts can be itchy, painful and embarrassing and are caused by a virus that can be spread easily to other people. Treatments bought over the counter from a pharmacy include creams and sprays but it can take many months to complete and may not always work. A GP should be consulted if a wart starts to bleed, changes how it looks or is very large or painful. Treatment may include freezing to allow the wart to drop off or minor surgery in very extreme cases.

Toe Deformities – is a condition where there is a malalignment of the toe bones. The most common toe deformities include hammer toe, claw toe and mallet toe. Most toe deformities are flexible but if left untreated may become rigid and then can only be treated by surgical methods. Toe deformities are caused by a variety of factors such as genetics, poorly fitting shoes, bunions, highly arched feet, rheumatoid arthritis and traumatic injuries of the toe. Managing these conditions include shoe modifications, therapeutic exercises and taking anti inflammatories.. Seek advice from a Podiatrist who should help can help with a treatment plan.

Excessively Dry/Sweaty Feet 

Dry feet, also known as anhidrosis, are prone to hard skin formation and on heels can lead to cracking and splitting. A simple moisturiser should be used daily combined with soaking in an oily water foot bath. For an intensive overnight treatment, apply think petroleum jelly, wrap in cling film and wear cotton socks over the top. There are many specially designed products for cracked heels that can be bought from pharmacies.

Sweaty feet, also known as hyperhidrosis, occur in people who have overactive sweat glands which often then leads to smelly feet. The protein in the skin starts to break down as a result of the constant moist conditions and in some cases this can lead to athlete’s foot or blisters.  Wearing cotton socks combined with daily washing and wearing alternating footwear can help, as can strong antiperspirants bought from pharmacies