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Family health

Preventing and treating common foot woes

We have the inside scoop about your foot blues, including shoes to avoid and how to escape the surgeon's knife

By Michelle Villet
treating common foot woes Photo: iStockphoto

Heel pain Stiffness in your arches and pain in your heels is known as plantar fasciitis. As it progresses, even your first steps out of bed in the morning can hurt, says Edmonton podiatric physician Mario Turanovic. Don’t ignore it, though: Left untreated, it can lead to painful, bony growths called heel spurs.

Causes Going barefoot and wearing flats that don’t offer any cushioning or arch support can cause major foot pain. Hormonal changes during pregnancy can also loosen tissues and cause arches to fall.

Bunions These bony, triangular protrusions form at the base of the big toe, forcing the joint to stick out on the side of the foot and the big toe to curve inward. They’re not always painful, but rubbing against closed-in shoes can cause irritation and swelling, says Toronto podiatrist Robert Chelin.

Causes Sky-high heels and tight shoes are part of the problem, but “if you’re born with a certain anatomical structure to your feet—such as flat feet—then you can be prone to bunions,” says Turanovic.

Callouses and corns They don’t usually hurt, but callouses, those extra layers of skin that develop at pressure points on soles and toes, can become thick, dry and hard—in a word, yuck. Corns, on the other hand, grow between and on top of toes, and hurt when tight shoes rub against them.

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Causes Friction. Shoes without enough cushioning cause skin to thicken to protect those bony areas on your tired feet, resulting in callouses. Choose shoes that allow your feet to breathe, since moisture causes blisters that can turn into corns later. Basic weekly maintenance will help keep these pesky problems at bay (see Tip-top toes). Target callouses with a foot file to gently buff off dead skin, and then apply a rich, soothing foot cream.

Pinched nerves Tingling on the ball of the foot (usually between the third and fourth toes) is known as neuroma. It can cause burning, numbness, even shooting foot pain, thanks to a swollen, damaged nerve.

Causes Regularly squeezing your poor little piggies into too-tight shoes can wreak havoc on your feet. “It’s also caused by a lot of pounding, either through sports or walking,” says Turanovic. Don’t assume foot numbness is neuroma though — it’s also a symptom of diabetes.

Hammertoes Toes get bent out of shape when their muscles become so contracted that the middle joint pops up. The condition can be very painful, especially when shoes rub against the toes.

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Causes High heels are bad news for your toes as they cause your foot to slide down and your toes to buckle, eventually causing hammertoes. Clenching loose shoes with your toes can also cause this problem.

The bottom line If switching shoes doesn’t give you relief, or if you have a chronic foot condition, see a podiatrist. A pair of custom-made orthotics can help keep feet in proper alignment and improve plantar fasciitis and pinched nerves; they can also keep hammertoes and bunions from getting worse. Some doctors also recommend specific foot-stretching exercises to keep stiffness at bay. If all else fails, surgery is a last resort.

Shoe choice Many foot troubles are just a new pair of shoes away. Look for ones with contoured soles and a toe box that’s roomy enough to accommodate bunions or hammertoes, if you have them. Consider a lower heel too, at least for days when you’re on your feet a lot. We love Ecco’s Lite shoe ($135, eccocanada.com). Not only is it cute as a button, it’s also a smart choice for tender tootsies.

Top toe tips Once the warm weather hits, it’s time to bring out the strappy sandals and heels and expose your toes. Polish up in 30 minutes or less with these tips from Cheryl Johns at Calgary’s EvelineCharles Salon and Spa.

  • Soak your feet in a basin of warm water for five to 10 minutes. Try adding a drop or two of essential oil to bliss out even more.
  • Dry off and apply an exfoliating salt or sugar scrub, working it between the toes and around any calloused areas. Rinse and use a foot file or paddle to buff away dead skin.
  • Rinse feet, then push back cuticles using an orangewood stick wrapped in a cotton ball. Trim nails straight across, then smooth rough corners with a nail file (file in one direction, not back and forth).
  • Apply a drop of cuticle oil or olive oil to each nail and rub it in. Follow with a moisturizing foot cream.
  • Swipe nails with polish remover to remove any traces of cream. Weave a tissue between toes to separate them.Slick on a base coat, followed by two thin coats of polish, waiting about five minutes between coats.Finish with a clear top coat and some quick-dry drops. Wait at least an hour before putting on your shoes.

Originally posted in June 2009. 

This article was originally published on Jun 08, 2014

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