Do you have a best foot to put forward? We walk an estimated 150,000 miles in a lifetime so it’s no wonder that research from the College of Podiatry shows that 90 per cent of men and women experience some sort of foot problem. Most common is hard, dry skin, owned up to by 60 per cent of Britons, but 18 per cent complain of ingrown toenails and 10 per cent worry about bunions. Despite this, only 23 per cent of people who have suffered a foot problem have sought professional help — and 16 per cent admit to ignoring the problem and hoping it goes away.
With that in mind, here’s the Spectator Health guide to fixing feet.
1. Fungal infections
Difficult to get rid of, says Joanne Evans of the Skin Matters clinic: ‘The infection can be painless unless the nail thickens and lifts; this can look very unpleasant. Common treatments are topical antifungal medication, prescription medication or in extreme cases, removal of the nail.’ New laser therapies are becoming available.
Podiatrist Trevor Prior says there is no single cause of bunions but there seems to be an inherited component, and they are more common in women. Non-surgical treatments will not cure the problem, but can ease the symptoms, says Mr Prior: options include good shoe choices, protective pads and gels and special splints.
3. Plantar Fascitis
Heel pain which has been likened to a nail being driven into the heel or a burning sensation. Caused when the plantar fascia becomes damaged and thickens. ‘Don’t self-diagnose this one – see your GP or podiatrist,’ says Matthew Fitzpatrick of the College of Podiatry. ‘Recovery can take 18 months, but surgery is rarely needed.’
‘We all get calluses,’ says Matthew Fitzpatrick. There are plenty of home fixes, but start by identifying the thing causing pressure such as an ill-fitting shoe. You can file away hard skin and use a good moisturising lotion, as long as it is urea-based (to break down hard skin). If the calluses keep returning or you have a corn, see a podiatrist.
Gout affects one in 40 Britons. It occurs when levels of uric acid become too high, causing crystals to form in the joints, leading to excruciatingly painful attacks of joint pain and inflammation, most commonly affecting the big toe. Treatment aims to lower uric acid levels. The most used drug, allopurinol, is very effective with few side effects.
This common problem causes foot pain in older people, says Dr Edward Roddy of Keele University, ‘Treatments include painkillers and anti-inflammatory drugs, changes to footwear and steroid injections. For people not helped by these, there are effective surgical options. The first port of call should be the GP.’ Changes to footwear can include changes to everyday footwear to wear shoes that can accommodate the foot and provide cushioning whilst walking and standing, provision of inserts and insoles that are either bought off-the shelf or can be made-to measure, or provision of specially-made shoes for people with more severe problems.
Very common, painful and unsightly, ingrown toenails develop when the sides of the toenail grow into the surrounding skin. The nail curls and pierces the skin, which becomes red, swollen and tender. Matthew Fitzpatrick advises removing the cause of irritation — i.e. where the nail cuts into the skin, trim it. But if your ingrown toenail is badly inflamed, bleeding or has pus coming from it, go to the GP.‘
These small, itchy swellings on the skin occur as a reaction to cold temperatures, and can be painful, but should heal naturally within a few weeks. ‘To avoid them, wear appropriate socks and shoes,’ says Matthew Fitzpatrick. ‘And if feet get really cold, don’t warm them up too quickly, as rapid temperature change damages cells.’
‘Verrucae are caused by a virus, so the only thing that can really heal them is the body’s own immune system,’ says Matthew Fitzpatrick. But small verrucae can be treated with over-the- counter preparations, and patients have also suggested that sticking duct tape over a verruca can help. Clients who visit a podiatrist might be offered cryotherapy, a freezing technique.