Common Foot Health Problems
Probably the most frequent question we get asked is about Plantar Fasciitis. It is often the cause of pain and stiffness on the bottom of your foot. Tears in the plantar fascia – a thick band on the bottom of your foot that is attached to the heel and fans toward the toes- cause the pain. The plantar fascia supports the arch and several muscles inside the foot. When it becomes inflamed, the pain can be anywhere from the heel to the arch. Inflammation can be caused by walking barefoot, repetitive pounding on your feet (eg. runners), and unsupportive shoes.
People who suffer from plantar fasciitis tell us that their pain is the worst first thing in the morning. That is not surprising since that’s when much of the damage is done. As you sleep, the plantar fascia begin to heal, but your foot is not in the optimum position. Your toes are usually pointed down, not forward, so the ligaments tighten while you sleep. Thus, when you stand on your feet first thing in the morning, the partially healed plantar fascia tears again.
As with all medical conditions, nothing can replace the advice of a doctor who has examined you in person. However, there are a few things you can do on your own, to help with plantar fasciitis. Generally speaking, the problem is not enough arch support. New shoes or new footbeds often make a big difference in how your feet feel. Also, it’s very important to wear “house shoes” or slippers with arch support, around the house, all the time (many Haflinger slippers have arch support). Keep them next to your bed. Put them on first thing in the morning, before you take your first step of the day. This will support your feet and help prevent damage to the plantar fascia.
Bunions are painful bumps on the side of feet. But of course they’re not that simple. The name bunion can be applied to one, or two, or all three of the following conditions: hallux abducto valgus – a deformity where the bone and joint of the big toe shift and grow inward so that the second toe crosses over the big toe; metatarsus primus varus – where the first (big toe) metatarsal bone shifts away from the second and the big toe points inward; or medial exostosis – a bony bump at the base of the big toe, which protrudes outward, and the area next to bony bump is red, tender, and occasionally filled with fluid. The toe joint may also be inflamed. In other, easier to understand, words, a bunion is soft tissue enlargement, which can be caused by a growth or deformation of the bone, and/or inflammation of the fluid-filled sac under the skin called a bursa. Bunions are often painful. Tight fitting shoes aggravate the pain. The first solution is to get shoes with a wider toe box. If this does not completely alleviate your discomfort, you may want to seek the advice of a medical professional.
A neuroma is an inflammation and/or growth of nerve tissue, forming a tumor. If the nerve stays swollen, it can become thickened, making the nerve larger and causing more pain. Symptoms can also include burning, numbness, or tingling. The most common type of neuroma in the foot is Morton’s neuroma, with tingling or pain at the base of the third and fourth toes, toe cramping, and/or sharp or burning pains in the ball of your foot. This type of foot pain increases when wearing shoes that fit poorly and press on the affected area. Discomfort associated with Morton’s neuroma usually worsens over time.
Corns & Calluses
Everyone knows what a callus is, right? It’s that thick hard patch of skin that comes from frequent friction or pressure. These usually form over a boney prominence such as finger tips, knuckles, and etcetera. Calluses can form at any number of locations on the soles of your feet (or hands). They are called “corns” if they form on your top or sides of your toes. The skin thickens as a protective reaction. For example, guitar players get calluses on their fingertips and gymnasts get calluses on the palms of their hands. This thick skin prevents them from getting painful blisters. People with bunions often develop a callus over the bunion because the bunion rubs against their shoe.
Treatment for corns and calluses varies depending on their severity. Worst case scenario, a corn or callus may become infected and require surgery. Usually the problem is caught before it progresses to that stage. There are many over-the-counter treatments available for corns and calluses that are not infected, including soft pads and pressure reliving products. However, the number one way to prevent corns and calluses from forming in the first place is to make sure your shoes fit properly!
Toenail Fungus (Onychomycosis)
Fungal infections in your toenails may cause the nails to become discolored, thickened, crumbly or loose. The warm, moist and dark environment inside a shoe is very attractive to fungi. A good way to help treat the fungus is to wear breathable shoes or sandals, and to keep your feet dry. It helps to rotate your shoe wear – don’t wear the same pair two days in a row. This gives your shoes a chance to dry between wearings. Cedar shoe trees (also available on our website) help extract moisture from your shoes, by inserting them in your shoes at night. Perforated insoles (ie. Finn Comfort shoes) increase air circulation in your shoes and also help your feet stay dry.
Ingrown Toenail (Onychocryptosis)
An ingrown toenail is a condition where the edge of the toenail grows into the surrounding skin. Sometimes the toenail pierces the skin. This may cause redness, swelling, pain and sometimes infection. There are a few reasons why this happens; shoes that fit too-narrowly are usually the culprit. In addition to properly fitting shoes, is important to keep your feet clean and dry, and trim your toenails straight across the top and not too short.
A hammer toe is also sometimes referred to as a claw toe or mallet toe. It is a deformity of the toe where the end of the toe is bent downward due to is an imbalance in the pull of the tendons. Either the tendon on top of the toe pulls harder or the tendon on the bottom of the toe pulls harder. This results in a curling of the toe. Hammer toe usually affects the second toe, although it can affect other toes. The condition might be the result of pressure from a bunion, which makes walking painful. However, the most common cause of hammer toes is wearing shoes that are too short or too narrow.
Plantar Warts (Plantar Verucca)
Warts can occur at any place on the foot. Plantar warts occur at the bottom of the foot; the word plantar indicating their position on the bottom. Sometimes they are mistaken for callouses because layers of hard skin can build up on top of the wart. Warts are generally harmless, and usually small growths. However, they can be disfiguring and embarrassing, and occasionally itch or hurt (particularly on the feet). Some warts will disappear without treatment, although it can take several months to a couple of years. They can occasionally be painful, depending on where on the foot they are located. While specially modified footbeds and/or shoes can help relieve the pain, it is always best to see a medical professional for treatment of painful warts.
Flat Feet (Pes Planus)
The term flat feet means just what it seems – feet with little or no arch. This condition is most often inherited. Infants and toddlers often do not have arches because these usually develop during childhood. In general, treatment for flat feet acquired in adulthood, involves pain relief and shoes that offer aggressive arch support. Some people may also benefit from custom-made orthotics to support the foot and prevent progression. Just because you have flat feet does not mean you will have foot problems or pain. If you do have pain, and our suggestions don’t provide relief, seek advice from a medical professional.
Achilles tendonitis is inflammation, irritation, and/or swelling of the Achilles tendon (the tendon that connects the muscles of the calf to the heel). It is caused by overuse, inflammation and/or trauma. Symptoms usually include pain in the heel when walking or running. The tendon is usually painful to touch and the skin over the tendon may be swollen and warm. If the tendon stays inflamed long enough, it can lead to thickening of the tendon. Sometimes nodules or bumps form in the tendon. Achilles tendinitis can become a long-term problem and can even lead to rupture of the tendon. Seek advice from a medical professional.
Prevention of Common Foot Problems
The American Podiatric Medical Association offers the following tips for preventing problems and pain:
- Don’t ignore foot pain — it’s not normal.
- Inspect feet regularly.
- Wash feet regularly, especially between the toes, and dry them completely.
- Trim toenails straight across, but not too short.
- Make sure shoes fit properly.
- Wear the right shoe for specific activities (such as running shoes for running).
- Don’t wear the same pair of shoes every day.
- Avoid walking barefoot, which increases the risk for injury and infection.
- It is critical that people with diabetes see a podiatric physician at least once a year for a checkup.