Common foot problems - prevention and treatment

Caroline Cassidy

Our feet account for a quarter of the bones in our body - with 7,000 nerve endings and more than 125,000 sweat glands in each one - and can cause us problems if we don't take care of them properly.

common foot problems
common foot problems

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Read on for tips to prevent and treat some of the most common foot problems.

Ingrown toenail
An ingrown toenail occurs when the sides of the nail (usually on the big toe) begin curling into the surrounding skin, either on one or both sides. Left untreated it can quickly become red, swollen and sore.

The NHS advises that a cotton bud can be used to gently push the skin (use olive oil to soften if necessary) away from the nail. Comfortable shoes with space around the toes should be worn and the nail cut straight across to prevent the problem getting worse.

In more severe cases a surgical solution may be required and expert advice from a foot specialist or your GP is essential.

Partially removing the nail proves successful in around 98 per cent of cases but to reduce the risk of the problem returning it may be necessary to remove the whole nail. Both procedures are carried out under local anaesthetic.

Toenails should always be cut straight across to avoid an ingrown nail. Properly-fitted shoes are also essential as is good foot hygiene, so wash your feet daily with soap and water and dry well. Be sure to change your socks daily too.

Corns usually develop where the skin is subjected to excessive pressure or friction. Often occurring on the tops or sides of toes, these small circles of thick, dry skin (hard corns) may cause pain and swelling as they press into the skin.

Soft corns are less common and are paler and more rubbery in appearance. They often occur between toes where moisture is trapped and can easily become infected.

Corns can be fairly easily removed by a chiropodist, who will cut away some of the thick skin (do not attempt this yourself!). A number of products are also available at pharmacies, including creams to soften the hard skin, corn plasters to protect existing corns and even silicone wedges that can change the position of your foot and redistribute pressure.

These are often caused by squeezing feet into the wrong shoes. High heels, where the toes are squashed together, or shoes that are too loose are common causes, though some may be due to misshapen feet.

Once again, proper hygiene is a must and a good specialist moisturising foot cream will help to prevent calluses and corns from developing. A pumice stone or foot file can also help to remove hard skin.

A bunion is where the bone of the joint at the base of the big toe becomes deformed. The toe then becomes angled so that it points towards the second toe, causing the bone to stick out at the base of the big toe.

Bunions can be painful and if you already suffer, painkillers will help to alleviate this. There are also a range of treatments available, including modifying footwear, insoles, and spacers that fit between the toes, each of which aims to realign the bones and relieve the pressure.

However, if the problem is severe, it may require surgery to remove part of the bone, allowing the toe to realign.

Sorry ladies but those ill-fitting shoes may well be to blame. Though conditions such as arthritis and gout can also cause a bunion, according to the NHS, they are more common in women and it is thought too-tight or badly-fitting shoes are largely to blame. High heels with pointy toes are a no-no - it's time to opt for a wider, more comfortable shoe. If you just can't do without your stilettos, save them for a special occasion.

Ultimately, prevention is always better than cure so take good care of your feet - daily washing and moisturising, cutting toenails correctly and ensuring that your shoes are properly fitted should help you to stay footloose and fancy free.