MY FEET ARE KILLING ME
This is one of the most frequent complaints I hear.
Feet are the most used and abused parts of the human body, the average American walks 115,000 miles – the equivalent of more than four times around the world – in a lifetime. With each step, minor abnormalities in foot structures or shoes that don’t fit right, or both, can result in such ailments as corns, calluses, bunions and hammer toes. An estimated 87 percent of Americans suffer from a foot problem.
The constant introduction of foot-distorting shoe styles for women and the fitness craze that has millions of American feet jogging, running, dancing and jumping have greatly swelled the ranks of podiatric and orthopedic patients. In addition, disorders like diabetes, obesity and circulatory abnormalities predispose their victims to foot problems that require professional attention.
Those who try to cope with foot problems on their own often throw good money after bad with purchases of inappropriate over-thecounter medications and appliances. In some cases, self-treatment can make matters worse.
Yet many painful afflictions of the feet can be avoided entirely or their more serious consequences averted by simple preventive measures and daily attention to these usually neglected (until they hurt) parts of the anatomy. It is best to wear shoes that have low heels, well-cushioned soles and supportive arches. Shoes should be at least half an inch longer than your longest toe. Well-made sneakers and sandals are considered acceptable footwear.
Shoes and socks should be changed daily and feet cleansed once or twice a day, dried carefully and dusted with foot powder. A 10-minute soak in warm water may be the best remedy for tired feet.
Corns and Calluses. These are the most common foot complaints (though many calluses give no pain or other trouble and can be left alone). They are composed of layers of dead skin cells and result from repeated friction or pressure against parts of the foot. They represent the body’s attempt to protect sensitive tissue.
Hard corns are usually found on the tops of toes, where skin rubs against the shoe. Sometimes a corn will form on the ball of the foot beneath a callus, resulting in a sharp localized pain with each step. Corns are cone-shaped, with the tip pointing into the foot. When a shoe exerts pressure against the corn, the tip of the cone can hit sensitive underlying tissue, causing pain.
Self-treatment can be risky, since the chemicals used to soften corns also damage healthy tissue. Follow the directions carefully and limit self-treatment to five applications. People with poor circulation, such as diabetics, should seek professional help. Removal of corns with a razor blade should never be attempted. Hard corns are best prevented by protecting any rubbed area with a stickon nonmedicated corn pad or horseshoe-shaped piece of moleskin or foam rubber and by not wearing the shoes that are the culprits.
Soft corns, which are rubbery, form between toes where the bones of one toe exert pressure against the bones of its neighbor. To help prevent their formation, use lamb’s wool or cotton between toes that rub together. Once established, these corns are best treated professionally.
Calluses form over a flat surface and have no tip. They usually appear on the weight-bearing parts of the foot – the ball or heel. Each step presses the callus against underlying tissue and may cause aching, burning or tenderness. Calluses may result from the friction of loose-fitting shoes or the pressure of shoes that are too tight. Women who wear high-heeled shoes are especially vulnerable to calluses.
People with high arches are also vulnerable since the heel and ball of the foot bear all the weight. Arch supports may help to relieve the pressure and cause the callus to disappear slowly. Cushioned innersoles may also help.
Calluses can be gradually eliminated by rubbing the callused area with a pumice stone after soaking or bathing has softened the dead skin. Then apply a moisturizing lotion. Do not try to remove too much of the callus at once. Diabetics should see a professional rather than attempt self-treatment.
Bunions. These swollen, inflamed protrusions occur on the side of the foot at the joint of the big toe (a form of bursitis). A similar swelling can occur at the outside of the foot, where it’s called a bunionette. The usual cause is the persistent wearing of shoes that are too tight and short. Not surprisingly, bunions are four times more common among women, many of whom wear high-heeled, pointy-toed shoes that cause the big toe to bend inward. In some cases, bunions result from an inherited misalignment of foot bones.
Bunions cannot be self-treated and only surgery can correct the problem. However, considerable relief may be obtained through conservative measures, using devices in the shoes that change the foot’s weight balance and by wearing shields to protect the bunion from friction against the shoe.
Hammer toes. As with bunions, this problem can result from wearing high heels or shoes that are too short. The usual victim is the second toe, which on most people is longer than the big toe. The middle joint on a hammer toe bends the wrong way, causing the segment of the toe nearest the main part of the foot to stick up. People with high arches are more prone to hammer toes. If caught in time, the problem can sometimes be remedied by splints and exercises, but a longstanding, rigid hammer toe requires surgery.
Ingrown toenails. In this misnamed condition, the nail doesn’t really grow in; rather, the surrounding soft tissue presses against the edge of a nail that has been cut too short. The big toe is most often involved. The problem is prevented by being certain to cut toenails straight across (rather than in a curve), leaving a piece of ”white” nail on either side.
If there is no evidence of infection (such as red, swollen, pussy tissue), ingrown toenails may be treated at home by forcing a tiny piece of absorbent cotton under the nail. This allows the nail to grow out without digging into sensitive soft tissue. Replace the cotton twice daily, perhaps first dipping it into an antibiotic solution.
Blisters. These commonly appear where a shoe rubs against skin that is unprotected by a corn or callus. Ease the friction with moleskin padding, wear socks and change shoes. Don’t pop blisters, since they may then become infected. If a blister breaks on its own, apply an antiseptic and keep the area covered with a sterile bandage. Remove the bandage at night to promote healing.
”Falling” arches. Feet that feel tired and achy after prolonged standing may be suffering from strained arches. Getting off your feet, soaking them in warm water and massaging them may help. If the problem occurs frequently, arch supports may be needed. In special cases these can be custom-designed, but much less expensive readymade supports help many people. The problem is often averted by wearing shoes with low heels and strong, supportive arches.