Things Your Feet Are Telling You About Your Overall Health

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**Please note that this article is intended to informative, not diagnostic. A diagnosis can only be made once we’ve had the chance to inspect and observe your feet in person. If you’ve noticed any of these changes in your feet, please make an appointment to discuss your concern with a physician in one of our locations throughout West Michigan.**

You should never forget about your feet. Not only do your feet support you day-in and day-out, but they can also act as a window into your overall health.

Early warning signs of health issues can show up on your feet first. For example, nerve issues affect the feet first because they’re farthest from our heart and spines. Similarly, our bodies send blood to internal organs and the brain before the extremities, so our feet are readily jeopardized when our bodies experience danger or threats. 

Therefore, paying attention to changes in your feet can help you catch serious problems before they manifest elsewhere.

The following symptoms could be signs of larger concerns:

Dry, flaking, itchy, or peeling skin

Dry, flaking, itchy, or peeling skin may be a sign of a thyroid condition or a fungal infection. Dry, cracked or flaky skin around the heel or on the ball of the foot could signal a thyroid condition. Other symptoms associated with thyroid conditions are weight gain, numbness in the hands, and vision problems. Itchiness and peeling are signs of athlete’s foot, though they could also be symptoms of eczema or psoriasis.  

Balding or hairless feet and toes

Balding or hairless feet and toes may be a sign of circulation problems such as peripheral arterial disease (PAD). While men tend to have more toe hair than women, we all tend to have fine hairs on our toes and feet. Losing this hair could be a sign of poor blood flow, and one cause of this is PAD. Leg pain and cold lower legs are also symptoms of PAD.

Foot numbness

Foot numbness may be a sign of circulation problems like PAD, peripheral neuropathy associated with type 2 diabetes, other neurological problems, arthritis, or long-standing alcoholism. If you experience foot numbness regularly, especially while you’re active, you shouldn’t ignore it.

Neuropathy is a complication of nerves that is caused by diabetes. It damages the skin and causes loss of sensation in the feet.

Toenail discoloration

Toenail discoloration may be a sign of malignancy, injury, a fungal infection, or too many pedicures.

Black spots or lines under your toenails

Always check your feet for suspicious moles, as you would your body and face. Melanoma specifically can show up as dark spots beneath the toenails. If you’ve recently dropped something on your toe or had another injury that could cause dried blood to pool under the toenail, that could also create a similar discoloration. However, blood under the nail will grow out; skin cancer won’t.

Yellow toenails

Yellow toenails could be a sign of a fungal infection like athlete’s foot, especially if accompanied by brittleness or flaking. They could also mean that you’ve been wearing toenail polish for months in a row, without a break. As mentioned in our recent skin care tips blog post, some nail polishes contain formaldehyde, which can turn your nails yellow. 

Yellowness can also occur naturally with age.

Morning foot or heel pain

Foot or heel pain upon standing or rising in the morning may be a sign of arthritis, plantar fasciitis. If you pain occurs with the first steps out of bed, it could be related to one of these conditions.  

Foot cramping

Frequent foot cramping may be a sign of dehydration, nutrient deficiency, circulation issues, or nerve damage. Foot pain can come from cramps caused by dehydration or a lack of calcium, potassium, and magnesium in your diet. If you’re drinking enough water, especially when you exercise, and eating a healthy diet, you should make an appointment to determine if there is a more significant issue.  

Sores or Wound

A sore that won’t heal may be a sign of diabetes or skin cancer. Nerve damage from diabetes can lead to sores that you don’t feel and that can become worse or infected. Another cause of non-healing wound could be a form of malignancy. 

Cold feet

Feet that are always cold may be a sign of hypothyroidism, poor circulation (PAD), or Raynaud’s disease. Hypothyroidism is also associated with hair loss, fatigue, unexplained weight gain, and depression. If your toes are cold and turn colors (white, blue, or red), it could be due to Raynaud’s disease. This is a common condition in which blood vessels spasm and constrict when experiencing cold temperatures. 

Enlarged big toe

Suddenly enlarged big toe may be a sign of gout, inflammatory arthritis, infection, or trauma. The toe joint may be red, hot, swollen, and painful.

Increasing foot pain

Foot pain that gets worse throughout the day may be a sign of arthritis. Progressive foot pain could also be due to stress injury or fracture. Pain from fractures usually abates with rest and intensifies when bearing weight.

Changes in your gait

Changes in your gait may be a sign of neurological problems like a stroke or multiple sclerosis or a herniated disc in your back. Whenever your gait is causing you to be unstable or to experience pain, you should consult us immediately.

Swelling

Swelling could be a sign of many problems such as a stress fracture or tendon tear; circulation issues; thyroid problems; a reaction to a medication; or congestive heart failure. Swollen feet are common after standing for a long time, or a small or more substantial injury may cause it. However, excessive swelling not due to an injury should be assessed.

**Please note that this article is intended to informative, not diagnostic. A diagnosis can only be made once we’ve had the chance to inspect and observe your feet in person. If you’ve noticed any of these changes in your feet, please make an appointment to discuss your concern with a physician in one of our locations throughout West Michigan.**

Foot Care Tips for Healthcare Professionals

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As a healthcare worker, you have a mentally tough job; it’s easy to forget that being on your feet all day can also be tough on your body.

Not only do you need to take care of your feet and body to extend your daily endurance and your career – you want to avoid taking your work home with you in the form of pain.

Fortunately, proper preparation, the right footwear, and simple self-care will go a long way in keeping you happy and productive on your feet.

Finding the proper shoes

Overall, it’s imperative for foot health and to avoid injury that you find proper-fitting shoes made for standing all day. Use the following tips:

  • Find shoes with sufficient arch and heel support.

  • Shoes with a low, broad heel often provide better support and allow for more comfortable walking and standing than flat shoes. It can also decrease strain on the Achilles tendon. Health and occupational studies vary in their suggestions for heel height; the consensus is to look for heels that are at least quarter inch but less than two inches high.

  • Avoid narrow-toed or high-heeled shoes. This leads to compression of the toes which can lead to pain for worsening of deformities such as hammer toes.  

  • Shoes that absorb shock and weight distribution are particularly helpful for those that walk or stand on hard surfaces, such as an athletic shoe.

  • Other tips on fit include finding shoes with a firm grip on the heel and a fastening, such as laces or Velcro, over the instep. Both will help you avoid slipping.

Other practical gear

  • Use a mat or carpeting over a hard surface if you tend to stand in the same place or places with frequency. Look for anti-fatigue mats, which are often made of rubber, carpeting, vinyl, or wood. Thicker, softer mats may actually cause more fatigue, so be sure to do your research.

  • Consider using orthotics. See our recent blog post for information on the benefits of custom orthotics.

  • Wear socks that are made of materials that breath, that fit properly, and that are clean and dry. Tight socks or socks that bunch up because they are too big can cause blisters and other problems.

  • Consider wearing compression socks. They help decrease muscle fatigue and swelling (edema) build up for those who stand at their jobs.  

Regular practices that will help you stay on your feet

  • Rotate shoes daily. By wearing different shoes, rather than the same pair day after day, your feet will experience different pressure points and areas of support. This will give areas that are overused in one pair of shoes a rest and will ensure different muscle groups are working. This practice also allows your shoes to air out on the days when you are not wearing them.

  • Replace shoes that have worn down. Shock absorbency decreases when shoes have been worn for a long time, meaning old shoes provide little to no protection for your feet.

  • Switch between standing, walking, and sitting when possible. Walking stimulates blood flow that standing does not, and sitting gives your feet a break. Consider shifting from one foot to the other, giving one leg a chance to rest. Also, try standing with one foot in front of the other. Raise the front foot if possible. This shifts your weight from the heel to the ball of the foot, which helps with weight-bearing.

Self-care

  • Stretch throughout the day. Stretch your toes and feet out in the morning, or before your shift. Take a moment every hour or so while on the job to stretch, which will relax and lengthen the muscles in your lower legs and feet, increasing your endurance and decreasing your chances of injury. Try doing calf raises, which help pump blood that has pooled in your feet back to the body. Runner’s stretch can also be done quickly and unobtrusively in the workplace. At home, either before or after your shift, consider doing more extensive stretching.

  • Use good posture and walk with good form. Keep your back straight and your head up. Avoid slouching your shoulders. Walk from heel to toe.

  • Strengthen the lower body and core, and build up your physical endurance. Squats, weight lifting, and Pilates will strengthen your body and help with endurance for standing all day while on the job. Swimming is an excellent way to stay fit while allowing your bones and muscles to take a break from gravity and bearing your bodyweight. Furthermore, if you are overweight, your joints will experience more stress while standing all day. Healthy weight reduction will reduce this strain.

  • Elevate your feet at home after your shift.

  • Massage your feet. Give yourself a small foot massage in the morning, perhaps while you’re still in bed, to warm them up, increase blood flow, and prevent micro-tears.

  • Ice your feet if you’re experiencing swelling or inflammation. Ice them for around 10 minutes right after you get home from work and before bed.

  • Care for your feet, including proper skin care and toenail care.  

Finally, one of the most important things you can do for yourself is to check your feet regularly. Please make an appointment to discuss any concerns or issues with us. It’s important to address issues before they get worse.  

Skin Care Tips for Your Feet

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Our recent blog posts on winter foot care discussed tips for proper maintenance and finding supportive winter footwear. The former touched on one of the most important parts of keeping your feet healthy when it’s cold outside: skin care.  

Think about how you change your skincare routine for the dry heat and harsher winter conditions. Maybe you keep a hand lotion at the kitchen sink after washing dishes – it could be there year-round, but you likely use it more, or more of it, in the winter. Perhaps you use cuticle oil on your fingernails and deep conditioner or oils in your hair. You likely use lip balm more often in the winter and integrate more hydrating face masks, oils, or creams into your day or week.

Now think about what you do for your feet in the winter. Kudos to you if you’re doing anything at all! Feet are often the unsung heroes of our bodies, carrying us around all day but forgotten during our self-care regimens.

Skin care for your feet doesn’t have to be lavish or time-consuming – though we highly recommend indulging if you are inclined. The foot skincare tips we’ve provided below range from basic to more spa-like. Add any of these home care treatments, even one of them, to your daily or weekly winter skincare routine, and you will reap the benefits. Your feet will carry you through the winter with ease.

Tips for Your Feet

  1. Wash your feet daily, being sure to wash and dry thoroughly between your toes. 

  2. Use a pumice stone or foot scrub to smooth out natural calluses and dry skin, which are often worse in the winter due to dry heat. Be careful not to overdo it as scrubbing too hard or too often may irritate your skin. Ask your doctor if you have concerns – we are happy to answer your questions.

  3. Give yourself a foot bath with Epsom salts to give your feet a chance for an extra soak. Use essential oils (suggestions include tea tree oil, lavender, lemon, and mint) for a spa-like treat at home.

  4. Moisturize your feet, but not in between the toes. Use a moisturizer immediately after a wash or bath and scrub, when your skin barrier is open to receiving moisture and hydration before sealing itself off, for maximum results. Apply your moisturizer in circular motions from your heel to your toes as a form of foot massage that will help with circulation.

  5. One form of moisturizer can come in the form of a hydrating foot mask, which should also be applied after your shower or foot bath. There are many options for foot masks, including homemade and store-bought, individually packaged or in bulk format. Some of these are left on for 30 minutes to an hour, while others can be left on overnight beneath socks, allowing your skin to soak in the moisture while you sleep. Even basic, store-bought emollients like Aquaphor be used as a hydrating mask when used in this way. The next morning, simply rinse your feet and pat them dry. Note: Beware that some masks and creams may discolor your socks.

  6. One other type of foot mask is the foot peel mask. These exfoliate the dead skin on the feet, which will eventually shed off. Often these masks are meant to stay on for an hour or so, though the skin may shed over the next three to seven days. Be sure to read instructions and plan accordingly.

Tips for Your Toenails

  1. Clean beneath your toenails.

  2. Trim your toenails straight across, but not too short!

    • Note that people with diabetes should get their toenails cut by a foot specialist. 

    • Toenails with a tendency to pinch or grow should be handled by a professional.

  3. Use oil on your toe cuticles. Keeping your cuticles hydrated will help them stay strong and will prevent snags, breaks, and hangnails. Coconut oil works well because it’s antibacterial and antimicrobial.

  4. Skip the toenail polish. While your toes are bundled away in socks and boots, give your nails a break. This is helpful to your foot health for three reasons. First, leaving your toenails bare allows them to soak up creams and lotions better. Next, some nail polishes contain formaldehyde, which can turn your nails yellow – the time off will enable discolored nails to grow out. Finally, many nail polish removers can lead to nail dryness. 

These tips are suggestions and starting points. If you’re having issues with the skin on your feet or with your toenails and want to speak directly with our specialized physicians, please contact us to set up an appointment. We’re happy to help with cracks and fissures or nail and callus maintenance and to provide you with personalized care and treatment. Keep in mind that dry, cracked skin is more prone to bacterial and fungal infections and should be treated right away before the condition worsens. 

If you’re looking to relax and get pampered, either after treatment with us or otherwise, consider making an appointment at Cure – The Physician’s Salon, which adjoins our Grand Rapids Southeast location. Cure ensures safe sanitation levels through the use of medical-grade sterilizing techniques and processes overseen by board-certified podiatrists. Their environment protects those at high risk for infection, including clients living with diabetes, compromised immune systems, vascular disease, or nerve damage.

Foot Care Tips for Teachers

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Working in schools is a unique environment for footwear: Teachers and education professionals are on their feet all day – standing in front of the classroom, monitoring recess, and taking students up and down halls and stairways – yet, in most schools, professionals wear dress shoes daily.

Dress shoes are not always designed for this type of wear. However, the tips below will help you stay on your feet from the first bell to the last.

Tips for keeping your feet healthy in dress shoes

  • Proper fit. Both male and female teachers should look for shoes that are wide enough for their feet and with enough room in the toe area to allow for movement. Arch support and shock absorption will help with all of that time spent standing. A firm heel counter will keep the heel from moving too much within the shoe. Open back and slingback shoes do not provide as much support as styles with a full heel. Socks should also fit to avoid cramping your toes or bunching that can lead to blisters.

  • Wear socks and shoes made from natural materials that allow your feet to breathe.

  • Slip-resistant shoes are essential, as students often track elements from outdoors into halls and classrooms. Plus, younger students are known to spill during snack time!

  • Take your time breaking in new shoes. Leather dress shoes, in particular, may start stiff and stretch after you’ve worn them a few times. However, don’t dedicate one day, or one extended walking session, to breaking in your shoes. Trying to wear new shoes for a full day of teaching, including running after kids on the playground, is likely to lead to pain and blisters. Instead, wear new shoes a bit at a time – for example, walking around the house or running quick errands – so that they loosen naturally.

  • Consider orthotics to provide you with support tailored to your feet.

  • Replace worn-out shoes. Shock absorbency decreases when shoes have been worn for a long time, meaning old shoes offer little to no protection for your feet.

  • Rotating which shoes you wear gives your other pairs time to air out. Shoe trees help speed this process along and keep your shoes in shape. Try wearing shoes every other day, or ideally every third day. An added benefit to this method is giving your dress shoes a longer life!

  • If you experience foot perspiration, consider using foot powder. It prevents perspiration and keeps your feet dry, helping you avoid athlete’s foot.

  • Consider using an anti-fatigue mat in areas of the classroom where you stand frequently. This may be in front of the whiteboard or behind your desk. We understand that this may not apply to primary school teachers or administrators, who are moving too frequently for it to be of use, but it could work well for middle and high school teachers.

  • Rest your feet at home. Elevate, soak, massage, and care for your feet so that they can support you for many school days to come.

Two common foot issues for teachers, usually due to unsupportive shoes, are plantar fasciitis and Achilles tendonitis. If you think you are experiencing symptoms of these, or if you have joint or lower back pain after standing in school all day, our physicians are here to help. We have six locations across the West Michigan area, from the Lake Shore to Grand Rapids. Each of our offices offers excellent lower extremity care to patients of all ages, including physical therapy and foot and ankle surgery.