Medically Reviewed by Carmelita Swiner, MD on May 29, 2020
Salon pedicures can be a treat for your feet, but sometimes they cause infection -- even if you bring your own tools. That’s because foot spas (the basins where you soak your feet) can harbor bacteria that enter your skin through tiny cuts. To protect your feet and lower legs, pass on pedicures if you have bites or scratches. Also, wait 24 hours after you wax, shave, or use hair removal cream.
Exercising Too Much, Too Soon
Heads up, weekend warriors: Resist the urge to ramp up your workouts too quickly. You could end up with a stress fracture. These small cracks or bad bruises in foot bones are not only painful, but they’ll sideline you for a while. Stress fractures take 6 to 8 weeks to heal. You may even need crutches. Keep that in mind when your buddy begs you to join them for a half marathon over the weekend but the farthest you’ve run is a 5K.
Too Much Body Fat
Overweight and obese people tend to have more foot pain than those who have a healthy weight. The link seems obvious -- more weight means more pressure on feet, right? The truth may not be so simple. Research suggests that more fat mass, rather than just more weight, is driving the pain. The theory is that fat tissue may cause inflammation and other problems that damage tissues in the foot.
The habit isn’t just bad for your lungs and heart. Heavy smokers can be at risk of Buerger’s disease. When you have it, inflammation and clotting of your blood vessels cause severe pain in your hands and feet. You can get sores on your fingers and toes, and the tissue there can start to die, a problem called gangrene. The only way to treat Buerger’s disease is to completely quit smoking.
Peripheral Artery Disease
Smoking also makes you much more likely to get peripheral artery disease (PAD), a serious condition that can affect your feet. In PAD, the arteries become narrow, cutting down on blood flow to your limbs. Calf pain is the most common symptom, but the lack of blood flow can cause foot and toe sores that won’t heal. In severe cases, gangrene and amputation come next.
A High-Heel Habit
You probably don’t need science to tell you that high heels can hurt your feet. Even one night out in stilettos can make them ache the next day. Still, the research is out there. Studies show high heels can cause:
Stiffness of the Achilles tendon
Foot and ankle sprains and strains
Foot pain and calluses
Flip-flops are beloved warm-weather shoes for good reason. They’re easy to slip on, affordable, and comfortable. But supportive shoes are much better for your feet. A lot of time in flip-flops can lead to problems such as:
Stubbed or scraped toes due to lack of protection
Pain at the balls of your feet from lack of padding
Tendon inflammation, since your toes flex and grip to keep the sandals on
Alcohol is toxic to nerves, and it can damage the ones in your feet over time. That can give you a burning or tingling sensation. The condition is called alcoholic neuropathy. Sometimes it has another cause, though: a lack of vitamins, especially B vitamins, which is also common in alcoholism.
Trimming Toenails the Wrong Way
Trim your toenails so they’re even with the tips of your toes. Leave them too long and they can get caught on something. Cut them too short and you could get ingrown toenails. How? The tops of your shoes could press super-short nails into the tissue around them. Another way to prevent ingrown toenails is to always trim your toenails straight across, never in a curve.
Public Pools, Showers, Locker Rooms
Athlete’s foot is a fungal infection that spreads easily, especially in warm, damp environments where fungi thrive. It’s no surprise, then, that people pick up this itchy foot rash in public showers and locker rooms, and from walking around public pools. This is a time when flip-flops are a good idea. The best way to prevent athlete’s foot is to keep your bare feet off the ground in these public spaces.
Going barefoot in germy public spaces isn’t the only way to get athlete’s foot. Damp shoes and socks encourage fungus to grow and spread. Change your socks often if you have sweaty feet. Dry your feet completely when you get out of the shower. When you can, wear light shoes that “breathe.” And definitely don’t share shoes with someone else, even if you think they’re completely dry. Athlete’s foot can easily spread this way.
Poorly Controlled Diabetes
Two diabetes complications are nerve damage and poor blood flow, both of which can put your feet in danger. Nerve damage in the foot can mean you won’t feel sores on your feet. Poor circulation means these sores, or foot ulcers, heal slowly or not at all. Sometimes the result is amputation. To protect your feet: