Are you shy about your feet? Foot conditions like athlete's foot, bunions, and corns may cause you to keep your feet hidden. Set your feet free by taking care of any foot flaws.
- Foot flaw: Plantar warts are flat growths that develop on the heels and balls of the feet. This happens when a certain strain of a virus called human papillomavirus (HPV) gets into the body through direct contact with the skin. Plantar warts usually go away on their own, but skin shed from untreated warts can spread to the rest of the foot and to other people.
Fix it: Combine over-the-counter wart medications with some pumice-stone exfoliation of the dead skin and wart tissue. Or, try the folk remedy of duct tape. It's actually been proven by scientists that covering a wart with duct tape for 6 days, followed by a soak and a pumice scrub, can get rid of plantar warts. The process used in the study required repetitions for up to 2 months, but it's an option if freezing the wart is not your thing. If self-treatments don't get rid of plantar warts (some treatments can take up to 12 weeks to work), or if there is a change to their colour or appearance, check with your doctor.
- Foot flaw: Fungus is very common. Among the most common is a fungal infection called athlete's foot, also known as Tinea pedis. But it's not just for athletes: wherever we step with bare feet – gym showers, locker rooms, pools, Jacuzzis, saunas – we are at risk. Athlete's foot usually creeps into the warm, moist spaces between the toes and leads to symptoms like itching, stinging, blisters, peeling skin, and crumbly, ragged toenails.
Fix it: There are a variety of over-the-counter antifungal medications that can treat mild conditions. Severe athlete's foot should send you to the doctor in search of something stronger than topical treatment, like an antifungal taken orally, or an antibiotic if you get a bacterial infection along with the fungal infection.
Along with the proper medication if needed, ward off fungal infections by keeping the area clean and dry. Wear cotton socks, and change them throughout the day if you notice your feet sweat (which tends to happen if you wear tight-fitting footwear, like construction boots).
- Foot flaw: If your big toe seems to be getting bigger, you may have bunions. Thickening skin, soreness, and swelling are signals. Often caused by body mechanics that affect the way you walk or by wearing ill-fitting shoes, bunions can be painful and can eventually lead to bursitis, a form of arthritis.
Fix it: A foot soak can ease some of the pain, as can a massage. Soothe the pressure with bunion pads or ice the inflamed spot. Over-the-counter pain medications can relieve some of the soreness. Doctors will sometimes tape up a person's foot to try to get the toes and foot back into a more natural position. Others will recommend shoe inserts or physical therapy. Some people may require prescription orthotics, which are padded shoe inserts. To prevent bunions from coming back, choose more sensible shoes. If you're a high-heel lover, toss them in the closet and opt for flats or sneakers for a while.
- Foot flaw: An ingrown toenail seems like such a small, trifling problem. After all, it's just a toenail, right? However, the rigid edge of a toenail growing back into the soft fleshy pad of your toe can actually be pretty painful. The redness and swelling can sometimes give way to full-on infection. Although it's rare, people (especially those who have diabetes) have gotten bone infections or foot ulcers that require amputation. So a little ingrown toenail can be a big deal.
Fix it: While your toe is on the mend, choose shoes that let your feet breathe a bit. Don't burrow into the skin to try to get the nail out, as this could leave you open to infection. Rather, try soaking your foot in warm, soapy water or, if you'd prefer, salt water. Either may soothe that tender toe and soften the skin and nail and you can perhaps reach under the ingrown nail and lift it slightly to help the nail grow above the skin edge. To prevent further ingrowns, trim your nails straight across and don't trim them too short. They should be long enough to line up with the top of your toe. If the area gets infected or is difficult to manage, check with your doctor.
- Foot flaw: We're busy people, and our feet may bear the mark of all our rushing-around. Corns and calluses come about due to pure and simple friction. All that rubbing of toe flesh against the inside of shoes, especially when worn without socks, can cause thick, rough, or dry and flaky patches of skin. When these patches develop on the tops and sides of your feet, they're called corns, and their hard centre can be surrounded by inflamed and achy skin. Calluses come from the wearing down on skin of the heels and balls of the feet. They're not painful, just kind of unsightly.
Fix it: Soak your feet in warm, soapy water to soften up that friction-toughened skin. Once it's softer, you can slough off dead skin. Try a washcloth first before using harsh pumice stones or shaving corns and calluses, which can raise your risk of infections. Rub some lotion onto your feet to keep the skin more supple. Speak to your pharmacist about purchasing medicated pads that, when applied, can help break down all the thick, rough skin. And keep future corns and calluses away by treating your feet more kindly – think comfy shoes, well-fitted socks, and protective pads.
Our hands and fingernails are always out on display, only hiding now and then in winter mittens or gloves. We slather our hands with lotions and many women regularly paint their nails or get professional manicures. It's easier to neglect our feet, as they are often out of sight and sometimes out of mind.
In recent years, though, women and men alike are realizing how good it can feel to treat their feet with more tender loving care. Pedicures have nearly caught up to manicures in popularity, and previously timid toes are now being pampered and polished. While professional pedicures are widely available and reasonably affordable, you can also treat your feet to a home foot spa.
Prime your feet
Feet bear a lot of weight and are exposed to friction and pressure. They're also often wrapped up in socks or crammed into shoes. Tight, hardened, dry skin and calluses can develop in those conditions.
To prime your feet for pampering, first soak them in warm, soapy water. Drop a bit of scented oil into the water if you'd like – peppermint to invigorate or stimulate circulation, and lavender to relax. Take advantage of these stolen moments to flip through a magazine, read a chapter from a novel, or simply close your eyes and just be.
Once the skin on your feet is softened up, use a washcloth, loofah, or pumice stone to gently remove any calluses or dead, dry skin. Knead some lotion onto your feet, giving yourself a massage while you're at it. If you're feeling like spoiling your feet, you can try a "foot mask" to lock in the moisture.
Trim your toenails
With your feet now supple and soft, your toenails should be more yielding, too. Toenails need a trim every few weeks. To prevent ingrown toenails, foot experts advise that nails be trimmed straight across. And keep your toenails trimmed to just beneath the edge of your toe. Too long or too short, and they can become ingrown or infected.
The cuticles can also be sensitive and vulnerable to inflammation, so don't cut or push them back. To clean under the nails, use soap and a nail brush or an orange stick. Hard metal tools are too rough. Be gentle.
If you choose to take your toes to a pro, be aware of spa safety. Salons have health codes they must follow, but businesses get lazy and, well, busy. Sometimes health and safety may fall to the wayside. Fungal and bacterial infections from whirlpool foot baths do happen.
When you're waiting your turn for a pedicure, watch and see if the salon's foot spa is drained, washed, and disinfected between customers. Take a look around the salon or spa. Does it seem clean and tidy? Ask the staff how the foot spas are cleaned. If they won't tell you, that's a good sign that you might want to get your feet out of there.
Don't shave or wax your legs within 24 hours of your pedicure or foot spa. Open or irritated skin can welcome infection. Likewise, if you have cuts, scratches, scabs, rash, or insect bites on your shins, ankles, or feet, wait until you're all healed up to treat your feet to a professional foot spa and pedicure. If after a pedicure you develop any skin problems in those areas, contact your doctor.
Your feet are, quite literally, your foundation. They are active and complex networks of bones, joints, tissues, muscles, and nerve endings that all work together to help coordinate motion in the rest of your body.
Remember that old song, "Dem Bones" – the head bone connected to the neck bone, the neck bone connected to the back bone, and the same pattern all the way down to the foot bone? Well, your feet are actually more than one big ol' foot bone: each foot is made up of 26 bones, 33 joints, 20 muscles, and more than 150 ligaments.
When something is out of balance in that complex network, the impact can be felt in the foot bones, the ankle bone, the knee bone, and all the way up to the "head bone." The root of some imbalances (and the aches and pains that come along with them) can be found in the way we move our weight as we walk.
You see, the action of walking is complex, but it is made up of two essential actions – supination and pronation. Supination is the action of turning your foot so that the outer edge bears your body's weight. Pronation is the opposite – it's the action of turning your foot so the inner edge bears the weight. To be in a properly balanced posture for walking, your foot should bear your weight equally, rolling naturally from supination to pronation, supination to pronation.
Supination: Take a look at the bottom of your shoe. If the outside edge of your shoe is more worn down than the inside edge, you may be a supinator. Walking with more of your weight on the outside of your foot can mean that the arches of your foot remain rigid and high. The inside ball of your foot doesn't have a chance to come into proper contact with the ground. Watch out for calluses on the outside of your little toe, taut and sore arches, knee and back pain, and a tendency toward ankle sprains and ligament damage.
Pronation: Are you an over-pronator? Check the bottom of your shoe for the tell-tale sign of extra wear on the inner sole. Or try standing on a piece of paper with wet feet. If the outline you leave behind shows most of your foot, you may have the lower arch that is sometimes the result of putting more weight on the inside of your feet as you walk. Over-pronation tightens the calf muscles, puts stress on the knees, and can lead to hip and back problems. Fallen arches and flat feet may also develop.
If you favour one part of your foot over the other, you're walking toward some aches and pains. Get balanced and get to know your whole, glorious foot! Try these tips for better foot form:
- Choose shoes that suit your specific feet. Everyone's feet are unique – high arches, low arches, wide, narrow, big, little – and no shoe is perfect for everyone. If you're a runner, choose running shoes that match your gait and running style. If you're a foot fashionista, try to limit your high-heel time to special occasions. And you simply mustn't squeeze your feet into shoes that are too tight. They're not going to magically fit you, and you'll just end up with corns, calluses, and bunions.
- Fashionable or functional? It's unfortunately true that most orthopedic shoes are a bit on the, well, clunky side. That's because they're usually built for support, not for fashion. Thankfully, more and more people are demanding hot shoes for sore feet, and the market is responding with options for inserts or well-built, supportive shoes that are actually somewhat chic.
- Set your feet free. How far apart can you spread your toes? Can you pick up a marble with your toes? Strong, flexible feet can form a solid base for better standing and walking postures. Fitness and flexibility should extend all the way down to your feet, and not many workouts give much attention to the feet. Yoga is a great practice for foot strength and flexibility. Try these moves, some inspired by yoga's balanced approach to the feet:
- Toes: Sit in a chair that lets your feet touch the ground. Keeping the balls and heels of your feet down, raise your toes off of the ground just slightly. Slowly and deliberately, spread your toes apart as far as they'll comfortably spread. Then, slowly and deliberately, place one toe back down to the ground at a time, starting with the little toe and working your way in toward the big toe. Try to maintain the distance between the toes that you created as you stretched them. Do this toe stretch whenever you get a chance. It opens the whole plain of your foot and encourages a more balanced distribution of weight as you stand or walk.
- Tops of your feet: This pose is borrowed from yoga, and it's a great way to stretch the tops of the feet and can help to strengthen the arches – a plus for those prone to pronation. Kneel on the floor and sit back onto your feet, with the tops of each foot pressed into the floor. Should this hurt your knees, wedge a blanket under your bottom or under your knees. If you're able, you can spread your feet apart enough to sit down between them. If not, no worries. Just hang out here, sitting with your chest lifted and back tall. Stay in the pose for about 30 seconds to a minute.
- Arches: As in the previous pose, kneel onto the floor and sit back on your feet, but this time, sit on your heels rather than on the tops of your feet. Your toes will be bearing much of your weight, but it will be in the arches of your feet that you will feel much of this stretch.
- Ankles: Sit on the floor with your legs out in front of you. Pull your feet in toward your pelvis and bring the soles of your feet together. It doesn't matter how close you get to your pelvis – there's no need to overstretch. Lift your right foot up over the left knee and interlace your fingers with your toes (it's like you're holding hands with your own foot!). Use your hand to rotate your ankle in small circles, switching direction when you wish. Switch to the other side and repeat.
High heels have a strong place in fashion. Many women love the lift and length, the haute and the height that high heels offer. They are willing to forego a bit of comfort and stability for the sake of fashion. But it's your feet that end up being the fashion victims when they're scrunched into narrow, arching stilettos or clunky pumps.
The structure of high heels and the anatomy of the human are just not always a good fit for 5 reasons:
- The slide: Slip a foot into a high heel and your foot is at an unnatural angle, fighting the downward pull of gravity. When your foot slides forward in a high-heeled shoe, your weight distribution changes, which causes friction between your foot and the shoe. This can lead to painful pressure, not to mention corns, calluses, and ingrown toenails. Corns are hard, thick knobs of skin that build up in response to the pressure and friction. Friction on the heels and soles of the feet can cause calluses.
- The bend: That downward pressure caused by "the slide" can lead to "the bend." Toes forced down into narrow, high-angled shoes day after day can begin to deform. The toes can begin to curl at the middle joint, producing the charmingly named hammertoe effect. Once a toe is bent in this way, it becomes even more susceptible to friction and pressure, corns and calluses, and, oh, fashion hurts. The joints can even become dislocated, rigid, and painful enough to sometimes call for surgery.
- The lift: If Barbie were a real woman, she'd have a (pardon the pun) standing appointment with a podiatrist or orthopedist. Picture Barbie's little plastic feet, forever arched and ready for a high-heeled shoe to be placed on her foot, like an 11.5 inch-tall Cinderella. Her Achilles tendon would be contracted beyond repair, and she'd likely suffer joint pain in the ball of her foot. You see, your body weight should equally distribute across the whole plain of your foot. What high-heeled shoes do is shift a lot of the body's weight onto the ball of the foot and keep the heels and Achilles tendons from properly functioning.
- The shift: All sorts of forces need to be in balance for the joints and tendons of your feet to work properly. Ratchet your feet up an inch or more from their natural arches, and you're bound to shift some of these forces off balance. When the big toe joint becomes unbalanced, for instance, a bunion can be the unwelcome result (or, in the case of the little toe, a bunionette, and, yes, that's a real word!). A bunion can lead to a bump on the base of the toe, swelling, and pain around the joint of the toe, and a thickening of the skin in the area. The affected toe swells in size and crowds against the other toes, pushing them out of whack and more or less changing the whole profile of the foot.
High heels can push a woman's posture completely out of whack, too. A woman standing in heels may lean back to counteract the headlong tilt created by the arch of high heels. This swayed back can cause the calf and hamstring muscles to shorten and cause all sorts of back pain, imbalances, and even knee osteoarthritis.
- The crack: Clad in high heels, the forefoot bears the brunt of all the walking and stair-climbing and running to make the next train. All this pressure and the feet may become prone to stress fractures, actual tiny cracks in the bones that can cause pain, swelling, and tenderness. All these take time, icing, and rest to heal.