When we think health, feet aren’t the first things to come to mind, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t important. Used and abused every day, whether walking, biking or strutting in stilettos on a Friday night, our feet need just as much care as does any other part of the body.
And it turns out that neglecting foot health can lead to a multitude of problems down the road, most of which lead to unsightly wounds, incredibly painful infections and even—gasp—foot amputation.
Dr. Gilbert Shia, a UK- and China-licensed general practitioner specializing in family medicine at Beijing’s International Medical Center, says that besides aesthetic issues, such as calluses, bunions and blisters, there are far worse problems our feet can come to have if we are not careful.
“We all have to remember that our feet take quite a beating. All the weight of our body is put onto our feet, it’s probably the one part of our body that is in contact with the dirtiest surfaces and we don’t check up on them as much as we should.”
Avoid going barefoot
For children, one common foot health issue is verruca plantaris, which are warts on the soles of your feet caused by human papillomavirus (HPV). Though these warts are more common in kids, usually caught in public swimming pools and nurseries since they walk around barefoot, adults can catch them, too.
Dr. Shia explains that because of the pressure we put on our feet, the warts grow inward and tend to appear in more than one area around different parts of the foot. Verrucas are not life threatening, but they can be quite painful.
Luckily, verrucas are easily treatable through two methods: using salicylic acid to burn off the top layer of skin or freezing the area by using liquid nitrogen. Though different, the end result is the same: the damaging and exposing of the virus-infected cells to the body’s immune system. “Once the cells are damaged, the body’s immune system steps in to do the ‘tidying up,’ which just means that it would attack and kill them,” says Dr. Shia.
Choose shoes wisely
Viral infections aren’t the only threats to foot health; the types of shoes you wear matter as well. “Ingrown toenails are a common problem among women who constantly have their feet squeezed into pointed-toe shoes,” he says. This causes the nail to grow inward into the flesh, leading to swelling, pain and infection.
Dr. Shia recommends cutting your big toenail in to a square shape to avoid its edges burrowing into the flesh. But for more severe cases, surgical removal of the infected part of the nail, or the entire nail plate, is the only available option to avoid further infection.
Diabetics are especially at risk of facing foot-related health issues, the most common being foot ulcers. “With poor immune, circulation and nervous systems, [diabetics] are unable to feel the ground the same way non-diabetics can, and even the slightest cut or irritation to their feet can lead to the development of a foot ulcer,” says Dr. Shia. The ulcer causes the flesh to gradually erode away.
If caught early, there are several methods to avoid further eroding like removing the infected tissue, using crutches or a wheelchair to not put pressure on the aggravated foot or be treated with intravenous antibiotics. But if not treated, the infection can spread and lead to amputation of the foot or the lower part of the leg.
Ultimately, Dr. Shia says, “nothing can replace proper hygiene.” Washing your feet daily, wearing shoes that allow breathability and tending to foot wounds immediately are just some of the simple ways to avoid those unwelcome and unpleasant foot problems.