Facts and tips for healthy feet, featuring Podiatrist Brent Bernstein, DPM, of St. Luke’s Orthopedic Care.
We often take our feet for granted, thoughtlessly use them and sometimes abuse them. We rarely take care of them. No wonder they sometimes hurt or don’t work as they should.
Take this quiz. Learn about your foot-smarts and other fascinating facts.
Answer: Each human foot has 26 tiny bones, 33 joints and more than 100 muscles, tendons, and ligaments. The foot is an amazing appendage that has evolved over millions of years, starting as a hand-like tool.
- Wear properly fitting shoes that are supportive, cushioning and protective. Replace them when they’re worn out and no longer keeping your feet comfortable and safe. Be sure they fit right, or you could develop foot disorders, pressure points, blisters, and other problems. “Too often, people, both men, and women choose their footwear for style, not support,” Dr. Bernstein says. “And they wear shoes long after they’re worn out. This is like keeping worn tires on your car; they’re no longer effective.”
- See a podiatrist when you have foot pain that doesn’t go away in 2 weeks. Trying to ‘wait it out’ or treat yourself could result in the condition worsening and taking much longer to heal.
Answer: “Never remove ingrown toenails; shave off calluses with a razor or knife; or pop blisters at home,” cautions Dr. Bernstein. “You’re headed for trouble if you take a sharp object to your feet without proper training.” Punctures and cuts can lead to infections, which can defeat the whole purpose of self-treatment. Leave these procedures to a professional.
Answer: Look closely everywhere for cuts, burns, bruises and punctures on the tops and bottoms of your feet. Because advanced or uncontrolled diabetes can diminish feeling on feet, called neuropathy, it’s critical to check them out frequently. Unseen or untreated injuries can become infected or worse, sometimes leading to amputation. Be sure you look everywhere, using a mirror if you need to. And don’t forget to peek between the toes for cracks and blisters that can become infected.
Also, reduce your likelihood of getting foot injuries by wearing good, sturdy shoes all the time, even indoors. And never sport flip-flops, says Dr. Bernstein, no matter how warm it is or how trendy this footwear looks - they leave the feet unprotected from things like small pebbles, thorns, etc.
Answer: Bunions, flat feet, plantar fasciitis, high arches and plantar warts.
Bunions are bone growths at the joint connecting the big toe and the foot. They can be inherited or develop because of ill-fitting shoes or more typically, a combination of both. There is not a consensus among doctors whether they can be prevented or not. They may be painful or not. They only require medical attention if they cause pain, at which point surgery is really the only effective and lasting treatment.
“However, people with diabetes who have bunions should strongly consider corrective surgery sooner rather than wait,” says Dr. Bernstein. “As diabetes progresses, surgery becomes more risky and therefore less of an option.”
Flat feet refers to having a low arch or none at all. They can be inherited or develop as we age. Some people with flat feet or “fallen arches” have no symptoms; for them no medical care is needed. In other cases, people with flat feet can have pain or foot/leg fatigue, which indicates a need for orthotics or other supports or even surgery, though this measure is rare.
Plantar fasciitis is an inflammation of the fibrous tissue along the sole of the foot. This condition can be painful when walking, running or standing. Causes include over-training/over-use, worn shoes, as well as injuries. Rest can heal this disorder over several months, though stretching, wearing orthotics and cortisone injections often help reduce it and prevent its return. Surgery is rarely needed for this condition.
High arches, like flat feet, can be congenital or developed as a result of a medical or neurologic condition. They can cause pain and fatigue, and limit athletics and prolonged standing. Routine treatments for painful high arches include orthotics or surgery.
Plantar warts are inward growths on the bottom of the foot caused by a virus. They are more common in childhood through young adulthood. Over-the-counter treatments are available for them, though they range in effectiveness. The most reliable treatment, in Dr. Bernstein’s opinion, is medical acids that only a podiatrist can apply to the warts to completely clear them up. He has found that many other surgical treatments (laser, cold therapy) can be painful without better outcomes than the acids. In many cases, the warts will disappear on their own over time.
Some not-so common foot disorders:
Charcot foot is a weakening and deforming of the bones of the foot resulting from diabetic neuropathy. Caught early, certain braces and casts are effective in correcting the bone malformation. Advanced cases often require corrective surgery.
Hammer toe is a deformity of the toes that can be painful and lead to problems with walking and standing. Surgery and small splints are used to treat the disorder.
Want to know more about conditions of the foot and ankle and about St. Luke’s foot specialists, visit https://www.slhn.org/orthopedics/conditions-and-services/foot-ankle
So how did you do on the quiz? Did you learn new facts about your feet? Hopefully, you now know how to better care for them. So remember, you only get two, so treat them well so they last as long as you do!