By the time you’re 70, you’ll have walked the equivalent of three times around the world – probably without appreciating that each of your feet is an engineering masterpiece made up of 26 bones, 33 joints and more than a hundred muscles, tendons and ligaments. Most of us take our feet for granted, until there’s a problem.
The problem: Calluses – thickened hardened skin – are caused by persistent rubbing or uneven pressure, usually from wearing badly fitting shoes. Calluses can be painful, and they can develop into corns.
The fix: Tempting though it might be to use a pumice stone or emery board, this isn’t advisable as it removes only the protective outer layer leaving the more painful ‘root’. Your pharmacist can supply non-medicated corn plasters to relieve the pressure or medicated ones containing salicylic acid to soften and break down the hard skin – use these with care, especially if you’re diabetic. A podiatrist or chiropodist will advise on the best course of treatment.
The problem: Fungal conditions – including athlete’s foot – are frequently picked up at public swimming pools or in communal changing rooms. Fungus thrives in warm, dark, humid conditions (such as those inside shoes and socks), and causes red, itchy and sore feet. If not treated immediately, the skin becomes soggy, cracked and peeling, and the infection can spread to toenails.
The fix: Keep your feet clean and dry, especially between the toes, and change your shoes and socks or stockings often. Try to avoid wearing the same pair of shoes every day. Anti-fungal sprays and creams treat the condition, and regular use of powder can help prevent recurrence.
The problem: Verrucas – plantar warts – are skin growths caused by a virus also often contracted at swimming pools or gym showers. Painless at first, they appear as small areas of rough skin, sometimes with tiny black spots, which can spread on the feet or to other areas of the body.
The fix: If caught early they may respond to salicylic acid treatments from your pharmacy, otherwise it’s best to have your doctor remove them.
The problem: Ingrown toenails are usually the result of uneven cutting of the nails, most often on the big toe, when a piece of nail breaks the skin and starts growing inwards, causing redness, swelling and severe pain.
The fix: An ingrown toenail should be seen by a doctor or podiatrist who will remove the part of the nail embedded in the skin and treat the infection appropriately. To prevent ingrown toenails, always cut your toenails straight across.
The problem: Bunions, which tend to run in families and could also be linked to prolonged wearing of poorly fitting shoes, cause the joints at the base of the toe to shift position and become swollen and painful, making walking difficult.
The fix: Wearing shoes cut wide at the instep and toes can help, as can taping the foot or wearing pads to cushion the bunion. If necessary, your doctor will prescribe anti-inflammatory medication or cortisone injections.
In general, make sure your shoes fit properly and provide the support your feet deserve. Walk barefoot on sand or grass whenever possible to allow your skin to breathe and to keep your toes flexible. Be kind to your feet – remember, you need them to take you three times around the world!