Here’s Exactly How To Treat The Most Common Foot Problems

They hold you upright and get you where you need to go. But when was the last time you took care of them?

Julie Stewart |

Extra kilos. Crusty socks. Do your feet deserve this mistreatment? As you go into winter hibernation, remember the crucial role your feet play in keeping you active. “Your feet are the only body parts that are almost always in contact with the ground,” says podiatrist Dr Duane J. Ehredt Jr.

They tell your brain where you are in space. So when something feels wrong, don’t ignore it. “It’s the subtle, nagging injuries men put off that become chronic problems,” says Dr. Ehredt. And if your feet aren’t in top shape, your whole body suffers. We’ve got the fixes.

Related: 5 Steps To Perfect Feet


The Problem: Fungus

Athlete’s foot isn’t just an irksome itch; it’s a fungal infection that can turn your skin scaly. Fungi can also invade your nails, making them yellow and chalky. Either condition can progress to a more severe infection, says dermatologist Dr Evan Rieder, of NYU School of Medicine.

Your Attack Plan

Foot fungus can be notoriously hard to treat because it can return and spread; you’re better off preventing it. Fungi befriend your feet in warm, moist environments, like sweaty shoes, so sprinkle a powder with the antifungal miconazole nitrate, into your shoes and on your feet before workouts, Dr. Rieder says. If you’re already infected, don’t mess around. Ask your doctor for a prescription antifungal product.


The Problem: Bunions

Bad shoes or genetics can cause a realignment of the joint at the base of your big toe, which bends sideways and can crowd other digits. Every step is like closing a door on a crooked hinge. “We can’t predict how fast a bunion will progress,” says orthopaedist Dr Judith Baumhauer.

Related: 5 Worst Foot Problems Solved

Your Attack Plan

Bunions can be corrected surgically, but it’s a tough operation. The surgeon has to crack the bone and straighten it, which is as painful as it sounds. Patients need weeks of post-op care and won’t see the full benefit for several months. It’s a last-resort option for people whose bunions interfere with daily life or make wearing most shoes impossible. For mildly painful bunions, try wider shoes or even toe spacers; let painless bunions be.


The Problem: Hammertoe

This is a toe (usually the second or third) that bends in the middle joint in a claw-like Z shape. It happens when your toes are jammed into shoes that don’t fit properly, or if you have muscle imbalances in your feet that keep your toes from straightening when you walk.

Your Attack Plan

Wear shoes with roomy toe boxes, says Michigan-based orthopaedic surgeon Dr James Jastifer. “You can even have a shoe repair shop stretch the forefoot of your current shoes,” he says. But don’t just stretch your shoes—keep your toes flexible so they don’t end up locked into a permanent deformity. Set a tennis ball on the floor and attempt to grip it and lift it with your toes every time you work out.

Related: Your Foot Care Guide


The Problem: Foot/Ankle Arthritis

Your feet are feats of engineering—each one has 26 bones and 33 tiny joints. Over time, especially if you’ve had a foot injury, joint cartilage deteriorates and bones can grind together. It’s often a dull pain that eases up once you stop walking and rest, says Dr. Baumhauer.

Your Attack Plan

Vary your workout routine to include exercise that’s easy on your lower limbs, like swimming. People in a University of Texas study who swam three days a week experienced a reduction in arthritis pain and stiffness. Since you can’t (and shouldn’t) stay off your feet all the time, make sure your walking and running shoes are supportive. Switch them out after you’ve walked about 650 km in them.


The Problem: Plantar Warts

Rough spots on your soles? No biggie. But if a callus encircles black specks and hurts when it’s pinched, it’s probably a plantar wart. These grow inward after an HPV virus infiltrates the skin, says Dr Tracey Vlahovic, a podiatrist who specializes in treating plantar warts. Yep, two-thirds of Americans have some form of HPV.

Related: 5 Nasty Contagious Skin Conditions You Can Pick Up At the Gym

Your Attack Plan

Your mom was right—wear shower shoes! The floors of locker rooms and decks of swimming pools are petri dishes. If you develop a wart anyway, apply a wart remover with 40 percent salicylic acid. (A weaker concentration won’t do the trick.) Wart still kicking? See a dermatologist or podiatrist. Today’s docs don’t just freeze warts. Many inject the lesions with yeast to stimulate your immune system to heal warts from within.


The Problem: Flat Feet

Sometimes hip pain and back pain actually originate with flat feet. “The foot is a complex body part, one we understand the least,” says physical therapist Dr Douglas Kechijian. If your foot is unstable or misaligned, joints and muscles elsewhere in your body overcompensate.

Your Attack Plan

Ask a trainer or physical therapist to perform a functional movement test to see how your feet, legs, and hips move. The PT can also massage your foot (yes, please!) to relieve tension. Then hit a specialty shoe store to find the size and styles that are best for your arch. “Shoes are like tires on a car; you get what you pay for,” says Dr. Ehredt. Insoles can also even you out.

Related: The Incredibly Simple Fix for The Common Runners Injury, Plantar Fasciitis


The Problem: Heel Pain

If your heels hurt or you feel a stabbing pain with each step, plantar fasciitis could be the reason. Your plantar fascia is that taut band on the underside of your foot that connects your heel and toes. It’s easily agitated, whether you’re a runner or just stand a lot.

Your Attack Plan

Lay off your dogs—but not for long. “A pet peeve of mine is the notion that this just needs to be rested,” says sports medicine physician Dr Mederic Hall. Immobilization will weaken your feet and ankles, which puts more strain on your fascia. Instead, strengthen your foundation with physical therapy, says Dr. Hall. To relieve pain, freeze a water bottle and roll your hooves on it for three to five minutes twice a day.

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