Feet: checklist for foot health

by | Dermatology, Symptoms

Here is a list of quick questions to help you check the health of your feet.

  1. Do you have pain in your feet?
  2. Are you on your feet all day?
  3. Do you have skin or nail problems (ingrown or discoloured toenails, corns, skin rashes, areas of hard skin) on your feet?
  4. Do you have any sores on your feet that are not healing?
  5. Do you have foot odour?
  6. Do you have a foot injury?
  7. Do you have health problems such as diabetes or arthritis?
  8. Do you have numbness, tingling or burning in your feet?
  9. Do your feet have poor circulation – are they unusually pale, blue or red?
  10. Do you trip or fall often?
  11. Do you have problems finding shoes that fit comfortably?
  12. Do you have lumps or bumps, bunions or misshapen toes?
  13. Do you regularly wear heels that are 5 cm (2 inches) or higher?

If you have answered ‘yes’ to any of these questions, see a podiatrist or your doctor for diagnosis and treatment.

Common foot problems

Here are some common foot problems. A podiatrist, your pharmacist or doctor should be able to help you manage these conditions. Don’t suffer foot pain, you should always seek medical advice.

  • Athlete’s foot is a fungal infection — also called tinea pedis. It is contagious via direct contact, wet floors and shared footwear. Athlete’s foot causes the skin between the toes to become inflamed, itchy and have a spongy or scaly appearance. Tinea can also spread to infect the sole of the foot and the nails.
  • Plantar warts (verrucae) are flat warts in the sole of the foot. They are forced under the skin and may occur in clusters. The surface is greyish and crumbly, and they may contain small black points that are swollen blood vessels. Plantar warts are also contagious via wet floors. Like other warts, they will disappear on their own, but this may take up to 2 years.
  • Corns are areas of hard skin that build up on parts of the foot that are subject to pressure or friction, such as on the little toe.
  • Chilblains are red or purple discoloration and swelling of the skin, accompanied by a burning sensation, caused by repeated exposure to cold air.
  • Blisters. These are small blebs of fluid formed in reaction to rubbing, friction and pressure on the skin of the feet. Blisters may become infected.
  • Smelly feet are usually caused by excessive perspiration and an over-growth of fungi and/or bacteria.
  • Infected toenails are commonly the result of a fungal infection, a condition known as onychomycosis. Toenails affected by onychomycosis are often brittle, discoloured or yellow.
  • Ingrown toenail. This happens when the corner or edge of a toenail grows into the flesh of the toe. Ingrown toenails often happen to the big toe.
  • Cracked heels. Cracked heels are due to dry skin and may be accompanied by a callus on the heel. If the cracks become deep they will be painful on standing and may bleed.

What can you do to care for your feet?

Here are several steps you can take towards healthy feet.

  • Wash your feet twice daily and dry them thoroughly, particularly between your toes. Use a clean towel.
  • Moisturise your feet, especially if the skin is dry, but avoid between your toes.
  • If you are prone to cracked heels in summer or winter, regularly remove the hard skin on your heel to prevent a callus forming and use a heel balm containing urea to soften the skin on the heel to prevent it cracking.
  • Change your socks daily and wear cotton, not synthetic, socks.
  • Wash your socks and towels at a high temperature (hot cycle on washing machine).
  • Wear well-fitting leather shoes that allow your feet to ‘breathe’ (synthetic shoes tend to increase the amount of perspiration) or wear open shoes or sandals to allow air to circulate freely.
  • Clip your toenails regularly, Cut straight across the nail – don’t curve the edges or cut down the nail, which can cause ingrown toenails.
  • Reduce time spent wearing high heels, and try to wear supportive shoes. Avoid spending too much time wearing thongs or flip flops – they don’t support the feet.
  • Bleach your shower/bath area.
  • Wear thongs in public showers such as in camping grounds, gyms and hotels, to help prevent you from contracting athlete’s foot or plantar warts.
  • When applying corn or wart medication, make sure it does not get on the healthy, unaffected skin.
  • Avoid pedicure bars and salons unless you are sure about their hygiene practices and that the instruments and foot baths are sterile.
  • Stop smoking – smoking greatly increases the risk of foot problems and amputations due to poor blood supply
  • If you have diabetes, eat well, exercise and have regular checks with your doctor to ensure it is well controlled.

When should you seek medical advice?

All of the above common foot conditions can be treated: some by medications that are available from pharmacists, while others, particularly fungal nail infections, can require prescription medication from your doctor. You should also seek medical advice if:

  • you suffer from nerve problems affecting the foot, such as in diabetes, as you may lack some feeling in your feet and that can lead to complications such as ulcers;
  • you have peripheral vascular disease (poor circulation to the feet and legs);
  • you have foot pain;
  • you have a mole or dark-coloured spot on your foot; or
  • there is bleeding.