Feet deserve your attention, too

Thursday, April 3, 2014 11:49 PM

You can’t pick up a magazine, turn on the television, or go online without seeing something about keeping your heart healthy, your brain active, your gastrointestinal system functioning smoothly, and your reproductive organs doing – shall we say – what they were designed to do. But feet? Well, aside from the occasional story where an A-list celebrity is seen on the red carpet in a stunning pair of Jimmy Choo’s, feet don’t get much press.

Until now.

April is National Foot Health Awareness Month. We spoke with Cortez podiatrist Terry Cook, DPM, about what people can do to keep their feet healthy. It all starts, he says, with good foot hygiene.

“Washing your feet every day is important,” said Cook. “If you have dry skin, use a foot cream. People sometimes ask me about the best moisturizer to use on their feet, but it’s different for everyone. You have to experiment and see what works for you. I personally like one of the cheaper brands, but some people have to buy a more expensive one to get the results they need.”

If a lotion-type moisturizer doesn’t seem to be doing a good job keeping your feel reasonably soft and supple, try a heavier cream or ointment that’s specifically for feet. In addition, always wear a fresh pair of socks each day.

Healthy feet need good shoes

Give your feet a once-over inspection each day when you’re putting on your socks and shoes or when going to bed at night.

“Look for red areas or irritations,” said Cook. If you notice anything out of the ordinary, try to pinpoint what might be causing it, such as a shoe that’s rubbing an area, and make corrections to resolve the problem. If it looks like anything serious is going on with your feet, talk to your primary care provider or podiatrist.

“Use common sense and wear the right shoes for the activity you’re doing,” said Cook.

Shoes in the correct size is also important.

“Sometimes people will say they wore a 9½ when they were 20 and think they should still wear that size,” he said.

In reality, as we age, the ligaments in our feet loosen and, while our feet don’t grow in terms of length, they may flatten out and get wider. When this happens, it may be necessary to go up a size. Shoes that are too tight may result in bunions, ingrown toenails and painful neuromas.

“High heels especially can cause these kinds of problems,” said Cook.

Ingrown toenails are one of the most common foot problems people have. This painful condition can be avoided not only by wearing shoes that fit well, but also by trimming the nails properly.

“Trim the nail straight across rather than curved,” said Cook. “When you take out the corners of the nails the soft tissue has nothing to buttress up against and the nail starts to grow into the skin. This starts a course of chronic or periodic ingrown toenails.”

If you get an ingrown nail, you can try treating it at home by soaking your feet in Epsom salt and wedging a tiny piece of cotton soaked in antibiotic ointment into the painful area. Cover this with a Band-Aid. If the pain continues, see a podiatrist.

Watch for fungus

Fungus is the cause of two common foot problems that many people experience. Tinea pedis – more commonly known as “athlete’s feet” is one. The main symptom of this condition is itching.

“Fungus is in the environment. You can pick it up at a gym, pool, hotel, or even if someone visits you and uses your shower when they have the virus,” said Cook.

Over-the-counter medication will take care of most cases of athlete’s feet. Cook also recommends a home remedy that involves soaking the feet in a 50/50 mixture of apple cider vinegar and water. Occasionally, a stronger prescription medication is needed to cure athlete’s foot.

Fungus under toenails is much more challenging to treat, said Cook.

Thick, discolored nails are an indication that a fungal infection might be present. Topical treatments work only about half the time, and that’s when a patient is diligent and follows a daily protocol for a full year. Most people can’t stick with that routine.

“A three-month course of oral medication is usually what’s required,” said Cook. “These can be hard on the liver, however, so patients need to get a blood test to make sure they can tolerate the drug.”

What to do about sweat

Another foot-related challenge for people who tend to sweat a lot is foot odor caused by bacteria that grows in a moist environment.

“I sometimes recommend astringent agents that people can soak their feet in, and there are also products on the market for feet that are similar to underarm antiperspirants,” said Cook.

For his patients who have severe sweating of the feet, Cook recommends changing socks frequently throughout the day and even changing shoes mid-day.

“It’s important to let the feet cool down and dry out for a bit,” he said.

While pretty feet and healthy feet are not one in the same, some people – mostly women – enjoy getting pedicures. If you are in this group, make sure the technician who pampers your feet is well-qualified and that the shop you go to is sanitary.

“If you were to go to get a tattoo, you’d want to ask if they’re using new needles. With pedicures, you should ask how they sterilize their instruments,” said Cook.

Likewise, you do your own pedicures at home, make sure that your clippers, scissors, and files are clean and sharp for the best results.

Southwest Health Notes is a public service feature provided by Southwest Memorial Hospital in Cortez, Colo. The information provided herein is not intended as patient-specific medical advice or as a substitute for consultation with your personal health-care provider.