Tips for Healthy Feet

You know your heart needs lots of TLC. Your feet do, too. After all, they are the workhorses of your body, taking about 5,000 steps a day. That’s 2.5 miles! Not to mention that your feet have to bear the weight of your body every step of the way. In addition, we cram them into shoes and stand on them for long periods of time. Those hard-working feet deserve a little more attention than you’re probably giving them. Here’s what you need to know.

Basic Care

What kind of basic care do my feet need?

Just as you wouldn’t go a day without brushing your teeth, you shouldn’t you go a day without taking care your feet.

  • Check them daily for cuts, sores, swelling, and infected toenails.
  • Give them a good cleaning in warm water, but avoid soaking them because that may dry them out.
  • Moisturize them every day with lotion, cream, or petroleum jelly. Don’t put moisturizer between your toes. You want to keep the skin there dry to prevent infection.
  • Avoid wearing tight-fitting shoes. Your shoes shouldn’t hurt your feet.
  • Skip the flip-flops and flats. They don’t provide enough arch support.
  • Rotate your shoes so you’re not wearing the same pair every day.
  • Trim your toenails straight across with a nail clipper. Then use an emery board or nail file to smooth the corners, which will prevent the nail from growing into your skin.

Corns and Calluses

What are corns and calluses?

Corns and calluses are thick, hard patches of skin on your feet. If you have them, you may notice pain when you walk or wear shoes.

They’re usually caused by too much rubbing, such as from wearing very tight shoes, or too much pressure against your foot, such as from standing for a long time or from a sport like running.

The only difference between the two is where they are on your feet. Corns usually form on the top of the foot, sometimes on a toe, while calluses appear on the bottom.

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How do I treat corns and calluses?

Mild corns and calluses don’t usually need treatment and will go away on their own. But there are some things you can do to help them go away more quickly:

  • Wear thick socks to protect your skin.
  • Rub your callus with a pumice stone while you’re in the bath or shower.
  • Use corn pads to relieve pressure.
  • Apply salicylic acid to help dissolve corns and calluses. Be sure to follow directions carefully so you don’t damage healthy skin. Never use acid treatments on your feet if you have diabetes.
  • Wear prescription foot orthotics.

When should I see my doctor?

If you have diabetes, don’t try to treat your corns or calluses on your own. Always see your doctor.

If you’re feeling any pain, you should also see your doctor. She may recommend changing shoes or adding padding to shoes. Your doctor might even shave off the callus or corn. If you have a lot of pain, cortisone injections, or in some cases, surgery, could be in the treatment plan.

How do I prevent corns and calluses?

Because irritation is the main cause of corns and calluses, a few simple strategies can help you avoid them:

  • Wear shoes that fit your feet properly.
  • Avoid wearing high heels every day.
  • Use gel pad inserts to further cut down on rubbing and pressure on your foot.

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Sweaty Feet

Why do my feet sweat so much?

Nobody knows exactly what causes some people to have really sweaty feet, also called hyperhidrosis. It’s likely inherited. Most people sweat when it’s hot out, but people with hyperhidrosis sweat all the time. Hyperhidrosis is more common in men than women and in younger adults.

Stress, medications, and hormonal changes can also trigger your body to sweat more.

What problems can sweaty feet cause?

Besides the discomfort of having wet feet, which could make you slip in your shoes, you could find that you have smelly feet and are prone to infections since that wetness can break down your skin.

How can I get my sweaty feet under control?

Start with good foot hygiene:

  • Wash your feet with antibacterial soap. Make sure to clean between your toes.
  • Dry your feet, and sprinkle them with cornstarch, foot powder, or antifungal powder.
  • Wear moisture-wicking socks.
  • Change socks frequently throughout the day.

Still can’t control it? See a doctor. Treatment options include prescription roll-on antiperspirants, Botox injections, iontophoresis (a treatment that temporarily plugs sweat glands) and surgery.

Foot Odor

What causes foot odor?

The two main culprits are sweating of the feet and your shoes. When your sweat mingles with the bacteria in your shoes and socks, it creates an odor.

How can I control foot odor?

Follow these tips:

  • Wash your feet daily in warm water with mild soap. Dry them thoroughly.
  • Dust your feet with baby powder or nonmedicated foot powder. You might also try applying an antibacterial ointment.
  • Change your socks and shoes at least once a day.
  • Wear shoes that let your feet breathe: leather, canvas, and mesh are good options, not nylon or plastic.
  • Avoid wearing the same shoes 2 days in a row. For athletic shoes, rotate pairs so each has time to dry, allowing at least 24 hours to air out.
  • Soak your feet in strong black tea (two tea bags per pint of water, boiled for 15 minutes and mixed with 2 quarts of cool water) 30 minutes a day for a week. Or use a solution of one part vinegar and two parts water.

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Warts

What are warts?

These small growths of hardened skin are caused by a virus. They can be painful, especially when they develop on the bottom of your feet. Those are called plantar warts.

The most common way to catch them is by walking on a dirty, wet surface without shoes. If the virus touches your skin, it can enter through a cut, some so small you don’t even know you have them. The result could be a plantar wart, which may be hard, flat, and gray or brown in color.

How do I treat warts?

Don’t try to treat warts yourself. Instead, see your doctor, who may suggest a medicine you can apply to your skin. Or she may remove the wart with a laser or by minor surgery.

Although there are many over-the-counter wart treatments, you should only use them if your doctor tells you to. You could accidentally mistake a wart for something like a skin cancer and delay getting the right treatment, and some of those gels and liquids contain acids or chemicals that may destroy otherwise healthy tissue.

If you have diabetes, heart disease, or circulatory disorders, you should never use these treatments.

How can I prevent warts?

Follow these tips:

  • Wear flip-flops in public showers, locker rooms, and pool areas.
  • Change your shoes and socks every day.
  • Keep your feet dry (warts thrive in moisture).
  • Don’t touch other people’s warts or warts on other parts of your body.

Athlete’s Foot

What is athlete’s foot?

You don’t have to be an athlete to catch this condition. It’s caused by a fungus that thrives in warm, dark, humid environments (think dressing rooms, showers, and swimming pool locker rooms). Your bare feet come in contact with the fungus, which then takes up residence on your foot. Symptoms include dry skin, itching and burning, scaling, inflammation, blisters, and skin cracking.

The worst part? It spreads easily, especially to the soles of your feet and toenails. You can also spread the infection to other areas of your body just by scratching it and then touching yourself. You can even pick up athlete’s foot from bed sheets or clothes that have come in contact with the fungus.

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How do I treat athlete’s foot?

Athlete’s foot can be hard to treat. See your doctor to make sure it is a fungus and not another condition.

Soaking your feet in warm water with Epsom salt may provide some relief.

Your doctor may suggest an over-the-counter antifungal powder, cream, or spray or prescribe some medication you apply directly to your skin. In some cases, your doctor may prescribe antifungal pills. Be sure to keep using your medication as directed, even if your symptoms have gone away. This will help prevent it from returning.

How can I prevent athlete’s foot?

  • Wash your feet daily with soap and water.
  • Take extra care to dry between the toes.
  • Avoid walking barefoot in public places.
  • Keep your feet dry. If your feet sweat, use talcum powder and wear breathable shoes, like ones made from leather.
  • Wear socks that wick moisture, and if you’re a heavy foot sweater, change socks often.

Insoles and Inserts

What are shoe inserts?

Shoe inserts can help with foot problems like flat arches and foot and leg pain. They provide extra support for different parts of your feet, like your heel, arch, or ball of the foot. You can get them over-the-counter.

They’re different from custom orthotics, which are prescribed by a doctor and designed for your feet.

A word of caution: If you have diabetes or poor circulation, over-the-counter inserts may not work for you. Check with your doctor about your specific needs.

How do I find the best insert for my feet?

Choosing the right insert can be confusing, given how many are on store shelves. You need to know what you want the insert to do. Do you need additional arch support because you stand a lot at work? Are you a walker who wants a little extra padding in your sneakers? Here’s a quick guide that can help point you in the right direction.

  • For low arches or flat feet: Arch support
  • For extra cushioning: Insoles
  • For extra cushioning in the heel: Heel liners or heel cups
  • To prevent shoes rubbing against heels or toes: Foot cushions

If the store allows, spend a few minutes walking around with the insert in your shoe before you buy it. If you feel any discomfort, consider another insert.

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Diabetes and Foot Health

How does diabetes affect foot health?

When you have diabetes, you are prone to getting the following foot complications:

  • Foot ulcers and infections: Peripheral artery disease, a condition that reduces blood flow to the feet, is common in people with diabetes. It makes them more likely to get ulcers and infections. If you think you have an ulcer, which usually develops on the ball of the foot or bottom of the big toe, call your doctor immediately.
  • Calluses: These thick areas build up faster and more often in people with diabetes. Talk with your doctor about treatment. One option may be therapeutic shoes.
  • Neuropathy: Diabetes can cause nerve damage in your feet. As a result, you may not be able to feel pain, heat, or cold as well, which means a foot injury could go unnoticed. Nerve damage could even change the shape of your feet and toes, making it harder to wear regular shoes.
  • Skin changes: Nerves control sweat and oil glands in your feet, but when they no longer work, your feet can get so dry that they peel and crack. Make sure you moisturize your feet every day. Avoid getting lotion between your toes.

Are there special things I can do for my feet if I have diabetes?

Follow proper foot hygiene. Check, wash, and dry your feet every day. Then add these extras to your to-do list:

  • Move more. Exercise improves circulation in the legs and feet, so consider starting a walking program. Walking can be done anywhere, like inside at a mall. All you need are good shoes.
  • Avoid going barefoot. Wear shoes and socks that fit well and offer protection.
  • Protect feet from temperature changes. Because of nerve damage, you may not feel heat and cold as well, so make sure you don’t burn or freeze your feet. Avoid putting them in hot water. Skip hot water bottles, heating pads, and electric blankets. Wear shoes on the beach or hot pavement.
  • Keep the blood pumping. Help keep blood flowing in your feet by propping them up when sitting. Move your ankles around and wiggle your toes for 5 minutes two to three times a day. Also, try not to sit with crossed legs for long periods of time.
  • Moisturize daily. Treat the tops and bottoms of your feet -- but not between your toes -- with a moisturizing lotion.
  • Stop smoking. Smoking can cause arteries to harden faster, which contributes to poor circulation.

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Preventing Foot Pain

What are the main causes of foot pain?

Foot pain can make it tough to do everyday activities like walk your dog or play with your kids.

What’s behind that pain? Several things could be causing your aches. For women, high heels may be the biggest culprit. Other causes include being overweight, wearing poorly constructed shoes, a foot injury or a bruise, or faulty biomechanics, meaning that your walking gait isn’t quite normal.

How can I relieve foot pain?

You can treat minor foot pain at home.

  • Spend more time off your feet.
  • Massage your feet to ease tension and aches. You can rub your feet with your hands or move them over a rolling pin.
  • Take an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication for pain.
  • Wear shoe inserts. Over-the-counter inserts may provide enough support. In some cases, your doctor may recommend prescription orthotics, which will be specially made for you.

If you have swelling that hasn’t improved within 2 to 5 days, pain that continues for a few weeks, or have burning pain, numbness, or tingling in your foot, call your doctor.

Get to a doctor immediately if you:

  • Have an open wound
  • See signs of infection
  • Are not able to walk
  • Can’t put weight on your foot
  • Have diabetes and a wound that’s either not getting better or is warm, red, deep, or swollen

How can I prevent foot pain?

Solutions depend on what’s triggering your pain, but here are some general pointers to remember:

  • Wear properly fitted shoes, replacing them if they have too much wear on the heels or soles.
  • Wear the right shoes for any activity you’re doing.
  • Avoid wearing high heels every day, and don’t wear any that are higher than 2 inches.
  • Lose weight if you need to.
  • Give yourself time to warm up and cool down when you exercise.
  • Stop smoking.
  • Use an over-the-counter shoe insert or pad that targets your particular problem.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Minesh Khatri, MD on April 24, 2017

Sources

SOURCES:

American Academy of Dermatology: “Warts:  Tips for managing.”

American Academy of Podiatric Practice Management: “Smelly Feet and Food Odor.”

American Diabetes Association: “Foot Complications.”

American Orthopaedic Foot & Ankle Society: “How to Practice Good Foot Hygiene.” 

American Orthopaedic Foot & Ankle Society: “Plantar fasciitis.” 

American Podiatric Medical Association: “Corns and Calluses.”

American Podiatric Medical Association: “Foot Health.”

American Podiatric Medical Association: “Heel pain.”

American Podiatric Medical Association: “Sweaty Feet.”

Bassett, D. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, October 2010.

Medline Plus: “Foot Health.”

National Diabetes Education Program: “Take Care of Your Feet for a Lifetime.”

National Institutes of Health.

American Podiatric Medical Association: "New study shows high heels are biggest culprit of female foot pain."

American Podiatric Medical Association: "New survey reveals majority of Americans suffer from foot pain."

University of Wyoming: “Step Conversions.”

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