Most Americans walk a staggering 75,000 miles on their feet by the time they hit 50 years old. Yet most of us don’t pay much attention to our feet—that is until they start giving us grief. The time we spend on our feet, and the weight they bear each day, can overwork the joints and soft tissue of even the healthiest feet—as well as expose them to infections. As a result of this stress, certain foot conditions can develop.
Here are five of the most common foot conditions, as well as what causes them, how they are diagnosed, when you need medical attention, and the latest treatment options.
Athlete’s Foot is also known as tinea pedis and is caused by a fungal infection of the skin. This infection gets its name from the fact that athletes commonly contract it from swimming pools, showers, and locker rooms where their bare feet come into contact with fungi. The fungus that causes the infection also thrives in the hot, humid environment of a shoe.
Athlete’s foot is characterized by a red, scaly rash on the soles and sides of the feet that often itch. Another form of athlete’s foot affects the spaces between the toes and results in skin that appears white due to excess moisture retention. It can be spread to other parts of the body, often the groin and underarms, usually by scratching the infection and touching these areas.
Over-the-counter antifungal creams and lotions are a good first step to treating athlete’s foot. If the infection doesn’t respond, a visit to a podiatrist is in order, who will typically prescribe either an oral or topical antifungal medication. To prevent athlete’s foot, the American Podiatric Medical Association recommends washing feet daily with soap and water, and drying them carefully, using shower shoes in public showers and locker rooms, and wearing socks that keep feet dry.
A bunion usually presents as a large bump on the side or top of the big toe joint, or the metatarsophalangeal (MTP) joint. It occurs when the bone or tissue of the big toe joint moves out of place and becomes unstable due to years of improper pressure being exerted on it. Bunions are typically caused by abnormal foot function due to our inherited foot type, our shoes, or the way we walk. They may also develop due to foot injuries, neuromuscular disorders, congenital deformities, inflammatory joint disease, or something as simple as flat feet. Shoes that are too tight may also contribute to the development of bunions, making women, who wear heels, more susceptible than men.
Bunions may be accompanied by redness, swelling, pain, or a big toe that appears to be displaced toward the other toes. Home remedies to treat bunions may include avoiding high-heel shoes over two inches, choosing shoes that are wide and deep at the toes, and applying ice packs to reduce swelling. If none of those work, visit a podiatrist, who may recommend padding and taping the bunion, anti-inflammatory medications or cortisone injections, physical therapy, orthotic shoe inserts, or surgery if all other options fail.
Corns and calluses are areas of thickened skin on the feet that form to protect those areas from irritation and pressure. Pretty genius on the part of the body, even though they aren’t pleasant. Corns are small areas of deeply thickened skin at the top of the foot that are often painful. They occur in a bony structure, such as a toe joint and are the result of friction against these areas. Calluses are larger areas of thickened skin that are not as deep as corns. They are also caused by excess friction and are usually found on the soles or sides of the feet.
If corns or calluses are mild and not causing any symptoms, they can probably be left alone. If they are causing discomfort, they should be examined by a podiatrist. He or she may suggest changing your shoes to make sure yours are properly fitted, adding padding to your shoes, or shaving down corns or calluses with a surgical blade (sounds painful, but it’s usually painless since they are composed of dead skin).
Ingrown toenails are the most common nail problem and they develop when the corners of nails dig deep into the soft tissue surrounding them. When one or both corners of the nail grow into the skin, it often leads to pain, redness, swelling, irritation, and even odor. The big toe is the most common toe affected. While poorly fitting shoes that crowd toes can certainly contribute to this condition, it can also be hereditary or develop from everyday activity, such as running or stubbing your toes.
DIY treatments of ingrown toenails, especially those that are infected, can spell trouble. Don’t try to remove any part of an infected ingrown nail, and avoid pedicures until you see a podiatrist who can examine it. Even if you don’t have an infected nail, you should see a doctor if an ingrown toenail is causing you any level of pain. A podiatrist can remove the ingrown part of the nail so that it grows out straight, and if it is infected, he or she will prescribe a medication.
To prevent this annoying problem, make sure to cut toenails straight across rather than into a rounded shape. Use a nail file to soften the corners. Avoid shoes with narrow toe boxes.
Plantar fasciitis is also known as heel spur syndrome. It is inflammation of the fascia, or fibrous connective tissue, that runs along the bottom of the foot, and it usually presents as pain on the bottom of the heel when bearing weight. It occurs when the fascia in this area is torn or stretched due to stress, strain, injury, improper footwear, or walking on hard, flat surfaces barefoot. The most common cause of heel pain is foot dysfunction which results in excess strain on the plantar fascia.
The pain usually worsens after rest, making the first steps out of bed unbearable for some sufferers. Home treatment may include stretching exercises, icing the area, pain medication such as anti-inflammatories. If these don’t bring relief, your podiatrist may recommend certain exercises, shoes, or shoe inserts to help. Physical therapy is also used.
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