By Michael Nirenberg, DPM
Our feet take a beating. We put in long hours, walking an average of seven to ten miles a day. We tread on artificial surfaces such as asphalt, concrete and tile, often carrying a briefcase, purse, baby or laptop-and for some of us, all four! And with each step, two to three times our body weight comes down on our feet, not to mention the strain of jogging, stair stepping or high impact aerobics.
So what can you do to keep your feet pretty, healthy and strong enough to make it through the day? As a podiatrist, I hear this question often and usually from female patients, which doesn’t surprise me, since women experience four times more foot problems than men.
Fortunately, both men and women can do simple, inexpensive things to care for their feet, and when your feet feel great, your whole body will too. Consider the following five tips to pretty, healthy feet.
The skin of your feet is increasingly prone to drying out as you age. Dry skin is not only ugly, but can crack open and possibly become infected, especially in diabetics or those with poor circulation. A good moisturizer can soothe dry skin.
The secret to finding a good moisturizer for your feet is not by price; more expensive doesn’t mean better. Read the ingredients and avoid products with alcohol or alcohol derivatives. Generally, lotions contain alcohol to make them absorb faster, but the alcohol hinders the product’s ability to moisturize your skin. The best dry skin products tend to be creams without alcohol. These are gooier and absorb slowly, so I recommend applying them just before going to bed.
This may seem to contradict using moisturizer, but dampness around your feet, specifically between your toes, can be a breeding ground for bacteria. When washing your feet, be sure to dry them well, especially between the toes. Towels can pick up bacteria or fungus, especially if they are damp or dirty, so wash them often with bleach or hot water and never use the towel that dried your feet on the rest of your body or face.
A good tip to keep your feet, and especially your toes, free from moisture is to use a foot powder enriched with zinc or menthol, or even both. A sprinkle a day will not only keep toes from perspiring, but also lessen odor.
Men can skip this tip, but women should heed it. Nail polish and acrylic nails trap moisture, increasing the chance of fungus infecting toenails, causing the nails to thicken and turn yellow or, in severe cases, black. Toenail fungus can also infect the surrounding the skin and in some cases, particularly when the person is diabetic or has poor circulation, can lead to the loss of a toe or even the foot. Some women who notice their toenails beginning to darken or yellow from fungus cover the nails with polish to hide them; ironically, this only makes the problem worse.
Am I saying you shouldn’t wear nail polish or acrylic nails? Not at all. Nail polish or acrylic nails can cheer up the ugliest of feet, don’t cost a lot and are generally among the safer pleasures for your feet. When using nail polish or acrylic nails, think of them like a dieter having a scoop of ice cream: occasionally it is okay, but not every day. If you have a special event, feel free to wear nail polish or acrylic nails; just remove the polish or fake nails when you get home. The more your nails can “air out” the better.
This seems obvious, but many people choose style over comfort (one study showed that 88% of women have at some point knowingly squeezed their feet into shoes that were too small). Like eating that fattening scoop of ice cream, wearing Jimmy Choos or other stylish, tight-fitting shoes occasionally for brief periods usually won’t cause problems. However, wearing ill-fitting shoes too often can cause the toes to crunch up, possibly causing permanent deformities, pinched nerves, corns, calluses or other problems. People with diabetes or poor circulation need to be especially careful and should never wear tight shoes, as these medical problems can result in serious foot infections and even gangrene.
The secret to making sure shoes fit properly is to shop for them late in the day when your feet are likely most swollen. When you walk in the shoes you try on, try to avoid the soft, plush carpet found in most shoe stores. If you’re in a mall, leave the shoe store and walk on the mall’s tile floor. Most importantly, if shoes hurt in the store, they will hurt when you get them home–a shoe should never need to be “broken in.”
The last tip to taking care of your feet is more common sense than secret: Check your feet every day.
It’s amazing how many people don’t look at their feet; or if they do see a problem or have pain, they shove their foot into a shoe and try to forget about it. When examining your feet, watch for any blisters, redness, swelling or open sores, and be sure to check between the toes as this is a common area for infections to start. A good way to see the bottom of your feet is to use a mirror.
If you find a foot or ankle problem, see a podiatrist promptly. Most foot and ankle problems are easy to take care of when caught early. The biggest complaint I hear from my patients is, “I wish I had come to see you sooner.”
Your feet work hard all day long, and they need a little care to remain strong. When you use these tips to take care of your feet, they can be pretty, healthy and ready to carry you anywhere.
To schedule an appointment with Dr. Nirenberg or another podiatrist at Friendly Foot Care, please call (219)663-2273. To learn about our amazing feet and ankles, visit Dr. Nirenberg’s blog America’s Podiatrist.