They pound the streets every day, carrying all our weight, so it's hardly surprising that sometimes our feet complain. So don't fling on any old shoes without a thought - your footwear options could be key to your foot health.
Could it be bunions?
Bunions - those unsightly V-shaped lumps at the base of your big toe - can cause pain, rubbing, inflammation and even infection over the skin. They can also make it hard to find shoes to fit. Doctors used to think they were all down to wearing tight pointy shoes. But while these can undoubtedly make matters worse, it's more often an inherited tendency to weakness in the joint, or arthritis, that triggers bunions in the first place.
Roomy flat or low-heeled shoes that don't squash your toes will reduce friction over the base of the toe and may be all you need. A podiatrist can advise on the best shoes and on padding over the bunion. In troublesome cases, your doctor may recommend surgery. This isn't an easy option - it involves either trimming the joint or breaking and realigning the bones, but it does usually offer a permanent cure.
Could it be my toenails?
Do you cut your toenails down at the edges? Just - don't - ever! It's a major cause of painful ingrowing toenails, which usually happen when the side of the nail grows into the tender flesh. Caught early, letting the toenail grow out (soaking and teasing out the nail every evening with a cotton bud) may solve the problem. You can find out more details of how to go about it in our leaflet on ingrowing toenails.
Otherwise, antibiotics and sometimes surgery to cut away the edge of your nail may be needed. It's usually done by a podiatrist or 'podiatric surgeon'. Podiatrists can help with corns, verrucas, ingrowing toenails, toenail clipping and a host of other foot problems - often on the NHS. Unfortunately, budget restrictions within the NHS means that services are decided by the authorities in individual regions, and some have stopped commissioning services such as toenail cutting, or limited services to people with specific conditions such as diabetes.
What about plantar fasciitis?
Plantar fasciitis is an inflammation of the tough connective tissue under your heel. Often a sudden increase in exercise (especially in shoes that don't have good cushioning in the soles) is a common cause, but being overweight makes you more prone too. Rest, anti-inflammatory tablets and well cushioned shoes may help.
So can exercises to stretch the connective tissue of your foot and ankle. You can find out more in our leaflet on foot pain, or watch our resident physiotherapist taking you through a range of exercises in our foot pain video. If these don't help, physiotherapy or a steroid injection into the painful spot may be recommended.
Could it be athlete's foot?
Athlete's foot isn't just for athletes - any shoes that make your feet hot and sweaty can make you prone to this fungal infection, which causes itching, scaling and painful splitting of the skin between the toes. Antifungal creams and powder (to soak up sweat) should solve the problem, although you'll need to keep using the cream for a week or two after the problem has gone (your pharmacist can advise).
To prevent it coming back, follow these simple tips:
- Wash your feet daily.
- Dry really thoroughly between the toes, using a clean dry towel.
- Use cotton socks to let your feet breathe.
- Change your shoes every couple of days to let them dry out.
- Don't wear trainers without socks.
- Find some time for bare feet at home.
Keeping feet healthy
Pumps are fine now and again, but they don't provide support for your arches so can cause aching. They can also cause clawing of your toes. Tight shoes make you prone to ingrowing toenails as well as corns and calluses. High heels force your feet forward, squashing your toes and making bunions more problematic. It may not be the season for flip-flops, but they do let your feet breathe, reducing the chance of athlete's foot. Like pumps, however, they don't offer support and are easy to trip on, causing falls.
Leather shoes let your feet breathe in a way synthetic ones don't. Well-fitted trainers with plenty of padding cut the risk of plantar fasciitis and corns, but don't wear them too long if you want to avoid athlete's foot. Shop for shoes at the end of the day, when your feet are a bit bigger. For a smarter look, kitten heels with an ankle strap look smart - and they're a smart choice for your feet, too.