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How to Care for Your Feet

Hiking, running and jumping are some of the enjoyable activities your feet allow you to do. Feet contain 26 bones and joints that support the body's total weight and travel over 100,000 miles in the course of an average person's lifetime. They allow you to stand, balance, walk, move about and contribute to the alignment of your skeletal system. Some people spend as much as 80 percent of their waking hours on their feet.

The condition of your feet is important to your physical and emotional well-being. Feet need to be kept strong, healthy and comfortable. They are highly susceptible to injury because of constant use. Every year, people spend millions of dollars on over-the-counter remedies to correct problems that can be prevented with proper foot care.

This information covers common foot problems and proper foot care as well as provides tips for good foot maintenance to help keep your feet in top condition.

Common Foot Problems
About 98 percent of all people are born with normal feet; however, most people eventually suffer some form of a foot disorder by adulthood. Children may start to show foot defects or damage as early as age two. Most foot problems are caused by improper foot care. Here are a few of the more common problems and suggestions for treatment.

Athlete's Foot - a fungus infection of the skin. It may begin with tiny blisters which burst and dry up, causing the skin to flake, crack, itch and burn.
Treatment: Try to keep your feet clean and dry. Wear cotton socks to help absorb moisture and discourage fungal growth. Use an anti-fungus powder or solution. If sores don't heal after one week, see your doctor.

Bunions - Swollen and tender areas caused by misaligned joints. Usually the big toe is affected and develops an overgrowth of bone.
Treatment: Special cushions worn in the shoe can alleviate some of the pressure caused by bunions. Cortisone injections may help alleviate swelling.

Corn and calluses - Hard, thickened skin which usually causes a painful and burning sensation. Corns form on the top of toes above a center joint or on the soles of your feet. Calluses form on the heel or ball of your foot.
Treatment: Wear properly fitted shoes to reduce the friction and pressure on the feet which causes corns and calluses. Occasionally, surgical removal is necessary.

Foot Cramps - Sudden, very painful cramps in the arch of the foot caused by strained muscles.
Treatment: Stretch the arch muscle and massage it until the cramp ends.

Foot Strain - Dull, pulsating ache in the arch due to fatigue or stress on the foot.
Treatment: Rest your feet, soak them in warm water and massage them. If the pain persists, seek medical attention.

Ingrown Toenail - Corners of the toenail cut into your skin and cause pain - especially when pressure is applied to the toe.
Treatment: Soak your toe in warm water and get early medical treatment to prevent infection. Your doctor may correct the problem surgically.

Onychomycosis (Toenail Fungus) - A fungus infection which grows under the toenail, causing thickening of the toenail.
Treatment: See your doctor. Several types of anti-fungal medications are available.

Some foot problems are signs of more serious trouble. Seek medical attention if your feet suffer from chronic infection, foot or leg cramps, coldness or discoloration.

Caring for Your Feet
Proper foot care also includes foot maintenance. Here are a few things you can do to keep your feet healthy and prevent problems.

   • Keep your feet clean and dry -- wash your feet, change your socks and air out your shoes to prevent fungus infections.
   • Rest and relax your feet every day. Lie back and elevate your feet for a few minutes. Give your feet a soothing massage with your fingers or roll your feet over a golf ball, tennis ball or a rolling pin for a similar effect.
   • Exercise your feet to maintain blood circulation. Walking is best. Try taking brisk 30-minute walks five to seven times a week.
   • Check your feet regularly. Look for sores, cracked skin and redness. Don't forget to inspect the areas between your toes.
   • Clip your toenails straight across, leaving nails a little longer than the tips of your toes to avoid ingrown toenails.
   • If you notice problems with your feet, get it treated right away so it does not get worse.

Tips for Buying Shoes
Many people who shop for shoes put style above comfort, cramming their feet into shoes that are too tight or too high. Ill-fitted shoes can cause many foot problems. Buy shoes that are right for your feet by following these tips:

   • Shop for shoes at the end of the day when your feet tend to swell.
   • Use the hosiery or socks you plan to wear regularly with the shoes when you try them on.
   • Avoid very high heels, platform shoes, clogs and other extreme styles.
   • Try on both sides of the shoes and walk around, jump, lean or jog to see how the shoe feels. Don't buy uncomfortable shoes. 
They can make you miserable and seriously damage your foot or another part of your body.
   • Make sure there is a thumb's width between the end of your big toe and the tip of the shoe and the ball of your foot fits comfortably in the widest part of the shoe.
   • Buy the size that fits your larger foot, if one foot is slightly bigger.
   • Look at the shoes while wearing them. If they are being pushed out of shape, they are too tight, Leather and fabric shoes are the most comfortable since they mold to the shape of your feet.
   • Check the shoes for good quality, strength and durability. Look for good workmanship such as smooth stitching and finished edges.
   • DO NOT buy shoes that you have to "break in."
   • Remember that brand name shoes do not guarantee comfort. If "no name" shoes fit well, buy them.

Especially for children
Use the above guidelines to buy shoes for your child, and:

   • Get the appropriate footwear to match your child's activity.
   • Buy shoes that fit your child now; over-sized shoes that the child can grow into can cause foot problems such as blisters.
   • Avoid using hand-me downs to save money. Each child's feet are different and shoes that fit one child may be uncomfortable for another.

Special Precautions
Everyone needs to take care of their feet. However, there are certain groups of people who need to take extra good care of their feet because they are likely to develop foot problems. These people include diabetics, the elderly, children and athletes.

Diabetes can cause poor circulation in the feet, making infection a serious danger. Here are some special tips for diabetics:

   • Never go barefoot; wear shoes or slippers whenever possible.
   • Try not to wear garters, rolled hose, tight girdles, tight or elasticized socks or ace bandages.
   • Don't cross your legs for extended periods of time.
   • Wear comfortable shoes and socks.
   • Use lotion on your feet to keep the skin soft and supple. Avoid letting your feet get cracked and dry.
   • Do not treat corns and calluses yourself. See your doctor.
   • Use only lukewarm water on your feet when you wash or soak them. Do not use hot water, heating pads, iodine or hot water bottles which can cause burns. Also, avoid Epsom salts or alcohol.

Older Adults
As you grow older, your feet are more prone to injury because of poor blood circulation. Older adults can protect their feet by following these suggestions.

   • Be faithful about daily foot care.
   • Try not to stand for long periods of time or over-exert yourself.
   • Avoid over-the-counter remedies for foot ailments. See your doctor.
   • Use properly fitted, good-quality shoes.
   • Do not expose your feet to extreme temperatures.

Children's feet develop during the first 18 years of life; this is when abnormalities usually can occur. Give your child the best foot care possible:

   • Allow babies to kick freely by leaving their covers loose or off.
   • Try not to force your child to walk before he/she is ready.
   • Be alert to abnormalities in your child's walk. If you notice anything odd about the way your child walks or if he/she is bowlegged, pigeon-toed or flat-footed, inform your pediatrician.
   • Teach your child about proper foot care.
   • Check the fit of your child's shoes regularly since their feet grow rapidly.

Most sports put a lot of strain on the feet and demand the best performance from them. This makes feet extremely vulnerable to injury. You can prevent infections and injury by doing the following:

   • Use shoes appropriate for your activity . Look for leather or fabric shoes which are cushioned and don't cram your toes.
   • Stretch and warm up before you begin any physical activity and take the time to cool down and stretch afterwards.
   • Begin slowly and gradually increase the intensity of your activity at a comfortable pace.
   • Keep your feet clean and dry; air out your shoes after using them and change your socks daily.
   • Deal with injuries immediately. See a doctor for persistent pain or swelling.
   • Listen to your body. Stubborn muscle cramps and spasms that can't be worked out may be a signal for you to rest.

Protect Your Feet on the Job
More than 100,000 foot injuries result each year from accidents at work. These injuries can cause pain, suffering, disability and losses of time on the job and income. Save your feet and toes from disabling injuries by using the basic form of protection -- the safety shoe. To get the most out of protective footwear:

   • Ask your supervisor about the type of shoes you need for your job.
   • Be aware that you can add special features to your shoes for protection against specific hazards.
   • For maximum protection, choose your safety shoes carefully. They should protect your feet against any work hazard and be comfortable.
   • Wear your protective footwear every time you need it.

Care for your protective footwear properly so it stays in good shape:

   • Check them regularly for damage such as cracks or dampness which could lessen their effectiveness.
   • Clean and condition them.
   • Repair or replace them when necessary. Repairs made should not decrease the protective ability of the shoes.
   • Let your supervisor know of any problems with your shoes.