Foot health involves the care of the foot to prevent problems with the foot, toes, and ankles, as well as treatment when a person experiences problems in those areas. Podiatry is the branch of medicine concerned with the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of foot diseases.
Daily foot care starts with bathing the feet in lukewarm water and cleaning them with a mild soap. The soap should contain a moisturizer. Otherwise, moisturizer should be applied to the feet. Washing the feet is particularly important for people diagnosed with diabetes. This condition can damage nerves and restrict blood flow to the feet. If foot care is ignored, the person risks serious medical problems that could lead to amputation.
The feet should be regularly inspected for abnormalities such as peeling on the soles, which could be a sign of athlete's foot. Foot care also includes trimming the toenails straight across to avoid blisters and other problems.
A healthy diet and regular exercise are important to foot health because the feet bear the weight of the body. Carrying extra weight of even 10 lb. (4.5 kg) places an additional burden on the body. Exercise should include walking, which helps a person lose weight or maintain a healthy weight. Walking also benefits the circulation, helps maintain bone density (thickness), and increases flexibility.
People should always wear shoes, choosing those that are comfortable and provide support. People may buy shoes specific to an activity such as ballet slippers, or shoes designed for activities like running, basketball, or walking. The runner lands on the front part of the foot (forefoot), so the running shoe is cushioned in that area. The running shoe does not provide the lateral support needed for sideways movements in activities like playing basketball. And a walker needs more support in the heel of a shoe than a runner does.
Shopping for shoes should be done later in the day when the feet are at their largest.
If socks are worn, the correct type of sock will help with foot health. Diabetics should wear natural fiber socks, such as those made of cotton, wool, or a woolcotton blend. Some athletes wear all-cotton crew socks; others wear those made of synthetic materials that do not hold moisture against the skin the way cotton does. Fitness enthusiasts may also choose socks manufactured for their activity, such as running or hiking socks.
Athletes may tape their feet to avoid getting blisters while participating in an activity such as running a marathon, playing tennis, or a sport like basketball or soccer. Athletes do this to provide additional support and prevent injuries and blisters. Materials used include duct tape and commercial athletic tape manufactured for this purpose. The areas taped include the ankle, the sole of the foot, the ball of the foot, and the heel.
Inside the human foot are 26 bones, 33 joints, and more than 100 muscles, ligaments, and tendons. The foot consists of three sections: the toes and five longer bones (metarsals) are in the forefoot. In the midfoot are the bones that make up the arch of the foot. In the hindfoot are the bones and that form the heel and ankle. The talus (ankle bone) supports the lower leg bones (tibia and fibula). The leg bones and talus connect to form the ankle. The heel bone (calcaneus is the largest bone in the foot.
During an average day, walking, “brings a force equal to several hundred tons to bear on the feet,” according to the American Podiatric Medical Association.
Foot health is crucial for every person because the feet bear the weight of the body when a person stands, moves around performing everyday tasks, and participates in physical activities like sports and running. Foot health is also important because of the numerous benefits associated with weight-bearing activities. The American Council on Exercise recommends that people do weight-bearing exercises for at least 20 to 30 minutes a day for 3 days per week. Weight-bearing exercises include jogging, walking, dancing, step aerobics, hiking, sports like tennis, skiing, and some forms of weight lifting.
These activities stimulate new bone growth in young people and maintain bone density in adults. This is especially important for women who experience bone loss after menopause. Some men also experience bone density loss as they age.
When a person stops exercising, the bones will start to thin. Loss of bone density leads to osteoporosis, a condition caused by the loss of protein and minerals, especially calcium. When bone mass and bone strength are lessened, bones become brittle and break easily.
Foot problems and injuries affect the general population. However, people who exercise may experience more of these conditions because they are more active. Foot conditions include skin disorders like athlete's foot, overuse injuries like plantar fasciitis, and acute (sudden) injuries like a sprain.
Some conditions may be treated at home; others require medical attention.
Athlete's foot is a fungal infection that grows on the skin of the foot. Fungi are organisms that grow in warm, wet places. The infection generally occurs between the toes or on the arch of the foot, causing the skin to become scaly. Skin may also peel and crack.
The moccasin type of this infection could start with a slight feeling of soreness in the foot. The skin on the heel may thicken and crack. In severe cases, the toe nails may become infected and fall out.
Athlete's foot is usually treated with over-thecounter products such as creams ands sprays. In more severe cases, the doctor could prescribe drugs or medicine. In addition, medical treatment includes an anti-fungal medication is required if toenails are infected.
Treatment of athlete's foot includes keeping the feet clean and dry. To prevent a return of the infection, a person should not go barefoot in places like a locker room. Other preventive measures include applying talcum powder to the feet and wearing sandals.
Overuse injuries are caused when too much stress is placed on the foot. Extending the distance of run or doing too many repetitions of a movement could cause the overuse.
ACHILLES TENDINITIS. Achilles tendinitis is the breakdown of soft tissues in and around the Achilles tendon. It is usally caused by repetitive sress to the tendon. Symptoms include pain on the back of the heel that increases during exercise. Other symptoms include swelling that worsens, and bone spurs, which are tiny, bony growths.
A person experiencing these symptoms should stop exercising. Home treatment for tendinitis includes rest, which is refraining from exercise and activities that caused the pain. Icing the painful area for up to 20 minutes at a time and medications such as ibuprofen and naproxen should reduce pain and swelling.
However, other measures may be required. A doctor could recommend physical therapy or wearing an orthotic, a corrective device inserted in the shoe. Surgery may be required if the condition does not improve in six months.
Causes of plantar fasciitis include aging, being overweight, and repeated stress on the foot through activities such as running and jumping. In addition, an overweight person who walks to lose weight could experience plantar fascia.
The primary symptom is a sharp pain in the heel that occurs when the person stands after waking up or after sitting for an extended period. Home treatment for plantar fasciitis includes refraining from exercise and activities that caused the pain. Other treatments include icing the heel, strengthening exercises, exercising to improve flexibility, and wearing orthotic devices.
In addition to these remedies, a doctor may recommend medications, physical therapy, the use of shin splints, or surgery.
RETROCALCANEAL BURSITIS. A bursa is a small sac filled with fluid. The retrocalcaneal bursa is located between the back of the heel bone and the Achilles tendon, above the area where the bone and tendon connect. Retrocalcaneal bursitis is the inflammation of the bursa. The condition develops slowly and is usually caused by pressure from the back of the shoe.
Treatment for this condition could include icing the foot, taking a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) such as ibuprofen, and selecting a different type of footwear. Runners should avoid hills and run on a flat surface.
METATARSALGIA. Metatarsalgia is pain in the ball of the foot. Excessive walking or standing, obesity, or a tight Achilles tendon may cause this condition. Treatment includes wearing shoes that give more support, taking ibuprofen, and use of an orthotic device. If those measures don't work, injections or surgery may be needed.
Acute injuries, those occurring suddenly, may be caused when a person falls, or twists and bends in an abnormal manner. The person may experience pain along with bruising and swelling. Some injuries may be treated at home with R.I.C.E., which stands for rest, ice, compression, and elevation.
TENDON INJURIES. Tendon injuries include the ruptured Achilles tendon. Aging and lack of use could cause the tendon to weaken, making it vulnerable to rupture. The injuries often occur to middle-aged men who exercise infrequently. They rupture their tendons while participating sports like basketball and tennis, activities where athletes run and jump. This condition is usually relieved with home treatment. Surgery may be needed for full ruptures.
In addition, injury to the Achilles tendon may occur to a boy between the ages of 8 and 14 who is diagnosed with Sever disease. The condition results from the heel bone growing more quickly than the leg muscles and tendons. This causes pressure, and physical activities like sports and running can result in injury. Home treatment generally helps with this injury.
STRAIN. Strain is the overstretching of a muscle (also known as a pulled muscle) or joint. Home treatment helps a minor strain to heal. An NSAID like ibuprofen could provide relief.
SPRAIN. A sprain is an injury to ligaments that connect bones. There are three types of sprains. A first-degree sprain stretches the ligaments. The person is able to move the joint, although it may be painful. A second-degree sprain partially tears the ligaments. Pain is moderate to severe, and there may be some joint instability. The third-degree sprain tears the ligament completely. The person hears a popping sound when injured. Pain may be mild to severe, and the joint feels loose.
Mild sprains frequently heal with home treatment. Medical evaluation is required for moderate and severe sprains. Medication may be prescribed, and the person may need a cast, physical therapy, or surgery.
Fractures require immediate medical attention. Before the appointment, the person should keep weight off the foot and ice the area with a pack or ice wrapped in a towel. Taking ibuprofen could relieve pain.
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American Council on Exercise, 4851 Paramount Dr., San Diego, CA, 92123, (858) 576-6500, (888) 825-3636, Fax: (858) 576-6564, firstname.lastname@example.org, http://www.fitness.gov .
American Podiatric Medical Association, 9312 Old Georgetown Rd., Bethesda, MD, 20814-1621,(301) 581-9200, http://www.apma.org .