Foot health: 5 common issues and treatments
Keeping active is essential for heart, joints and general health - but every step begins with your feet. Our poor feet get a pounding when we're up and about, so take simple measures to look after yours and keep a smile on your face.
Swollen feet are very common towards the end of the day, especially in hot weather if you've been standing or sitting for long periods. Some tablets (particularly amlodipine, a blood pressure medicine) make you more prone to foot/ankle swelling. Keep your feet up when sitting, and walk around as much as possible to get the blood circulating, carrying fluid back to the heart. Permanently swollen feet, especially if accompanied by shortness of breath on walking or lying flat, can be a sign of heart failure - see your doctor. And swelling of one foot/calf could be a sign of infection or possibly a deep vein thrombosis (DVT) so get it checked out with your GP.
Morton's neuroma is a swelling around the nerve that runs along your feet, just behind the gap between the 2nd and 3rd or 3rd and 4th toes. It causes shooting pain when you take a step, usually starting in the ball of your foot but sometimes travelling into your toe. It can be accompanied by a burning or numb sensation.
The main culprit is tight shoes which press the bones of the feet together, crushing the nerve - not surprisingly, women suffer three times more often than men. In mild cases, binning the stilettoes may be all that's needed, but otherwise specialised insoles or a steroid injection into the site of the pain can help. If all else fails, you may be offered surgery (usually under local anaesthetic), possibly by a 'podiatric surgeon' - but roomy shoes are still the order of the day.
High heels used to get all the blame for bunions, too. In fact, while they sometimes run in families or are linked to arthritis, there's often no clear cause for these lumps at the base of your big toe. They can stick out, cause pain or soreness and can lead to your big toe overlapping your second - all of which can make finding comfortable shoes difficult.
However, tight or high-heeled shoes squash the bottom of the toes together and undoubtedly make the problem worse. Switch to well fitted, roomy (and non-pointed) shoes with heels under two inches and consider arch supports (a podiatrist may be able to advise). Most people have one foot larger than the other - buy shoes that fit the larger foot and wear an insole in the shoe for the smaller foot if needed. Shop for shoes towards the end of the day - your feet often spread while you're up and about. Bunion pads can relieve pressure and inflammation. If all else fails, you may be offered surgery.
Gout also commonly strikes at the base of the big toe, but causes sudden, severe redness, swelling and pain. Caused by a build-up of uric acid crystals in the joint, it can run in families but your diet can play a part too. Anti-inflammatory tablets ease the pain and your doctor may recommend regular tablets for repeated attacks. A diet low in purine (avoid oily fish, liver, kidneys, seafood, beer, Bovril® and Marmite® and limit other meats, mushrooms, wholegrain foods and pulses) can cut your chance of further episodes.
Pain under your heel is more likely to be due to a plantar fasciitis - inflammation of the tough connective tissue that runs down the sole of your foot. Exercising when you're not used to it, especially in shoes with poor arch support or cushioning, is a common cause. Being sedentary or overweight also makes it more likely. Painkillers, rest, cushioned heel supports and stretching exercises should help, but you may need a steroid injection into the heel.
And a few general tips…
- If you have diabetes, special attention to your feet, including an annual foot check, can help avoid serious complications
- Osteoarthritis commonly affects knees, hips, spine and hands, but feet can be affected too. Keeping your weight down helps
- Podiatrists (the modern name for chiropodists) can help with most foot problems, including verrucas, toenail issues, corns, calluses and ingrowing toenails. In some areas podiatry is available on the NHS - ask your GP.
With thanks to 'My Weekly' magazine where this article was originally published.