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Dr Duncan

Best foot forward

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One of the most remarkable things about life is that we often don’t appreciate what we have until it goes wrong! There is a saying that goes something like “I used to worry about not having any shoes to wear until I met a man with no feet”. If we weren’t able to walk our lives would be severely limited, and if we were in constant pain life would be fairly miserable too - we need our feet to be “Happy Feet”.

Our feet do a remarkable job day in and day out, often hitting the ground up to 10,000 times a day if we’re into jogging on a daily basis. And if we happen to be overweight, then our feet have to literally bear the burden of being squeezed between a 100+kg weight and a hard surface for hours every day, so it’s hardly surprising that if our feet play up, then we are in serious trouble because painful feet - or no feet at all - can make life extraordinarily difficult.

So how can we care for our feet so that they keep us happy and mobile on a daily basis?

Most of the time we can’t choose the type of surface we walk on, but what we wear can have a dramatic effect on the health of our feet, and this is particularly so with regards to female fashions. I am constantly amazed by the fact that so many beautiful young women of perfectly normal height seem to want to enlist for the Ukrainian women's basketball team! In other words they are augmenting their height to extraordinary lengths by wearing shoes with heels/platforms that would make most men vertiginous.

The potential danger with such shoes is that not only can the woman fall off these augmented heights and damage their ankles leading to premature arthritis, but they also force the front of the foot into a narrow space and increase the pressure in the joints at the base of the toes resulting in excessive inflammation and the potential for long term deformity; and in many cases this means developing bunions. Most people have heard of bunions, which are due to deformity and inflammation of the joint at the base of the big toe; once it has begun it becomes irreversible and painful, and the only corrective help is through invasive surgery. My experience of surgery to the foot is that not only is it one of the most painful areas of the body to operate on, but it is also one of the slowest in terms of recovery time as you still have to walk on your feet during convalescence. Which leads to the dictum of all health professionals: “First do no harm”: a dictum that everyone should apply to their feet!

Another area where we can care for our feet is in the area of nail care. Ingrown toenails are common and if they become infected can lead to serious discomfort: if you happen to be a diabetic, an ingrown infected toenail can have extremely serious consequences, even leading to leg amputation for insoluble gangrene. There are many old wives’ tales about how to look after ingrown nails, one of the more common being that you cut a “V” in the nail to help it grow towards the middle: believe me, it doesn’t work! If you have nails that tend to dig in at the edges two things are important:

  • Cut the nails straight across
  • Do not try and dig out any debris at the side of the nail with the point of your sharp scissors.
If age seems to make your feet seem too far away to reach, or you are unsure how to properly manage your ingrown toenails, then do see either your GP or an experienced Podiatrist and they will be able to help you with correct nail care.

But it’s not only the nails that can become infected on our feet. The skin between the toes is at greater risk of fungal infections because many of us fail to dry this area properly after sport or showering, and fungi love a warm moist area to thrive in. The risk for having damp feet is also increased by wearing synthetic socks which fail to let the foot dry naturally, so:

  • Wear cotton socks
  • Dry thoroughly between the toes - use a hair-dryer if necessary as long as you ask the wife first!
Another common, painful, infective condition is that of Papillomata. These are wart like infections that occur under the foot usually, and the sufferer commonly thinks that they have trodden on something and that the “splinter” hasn’t come out yet. What has happened is that the wart virus has caused the skin to thicken to a hard core which feels like a splinter, and until the virus is correctly managed, then they are very painful to walk on. Again, you need to see your GP or an experienced Podiatrist.

Your feet are your silent partner and you need to keep them happy: with good shoes, good nail care and good care and attention, they will happily carry you through a long and healthy life.

Article written by Dr. Duncan Jefferson. More articles here. For more information on health care and private health cover, visit HBF Insurance at www.hbf.com.au.

The content of these articles is not tailored for any particular individual's circumstances. The author does not take into account your physical condition, medical history or any medication you may be taking. Any advice or information provided by the author cannot replace the advice of your health care professional. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent those of HBF unless clearly indicated.

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