Love your feet

According to a report by the College of Podiatry, one in five women are embarrassed about their feet. Here’s how to feel good about yours

It may be time to put away your winter boots, but will you be ready to show off your feet when summer comes? If research by the College of Podiatry is anything to go by, many women won’t be.

The report claims 90 percent of women have had a foot problem, with one in five confessing to being embarrassed about their feet. As a result, more than one in 10 women has felt the need to cover their feet in warm weather just because they don’t like the look of them.

The top foot problems women experience are blisters. Here’s a rundown of the top 10 problems, as revealed by the College of Podiatry’s report:

  1. Blisters (55 percent)
  2. Cracked heels (45 percent)
  3. Veruccas (28 percent)
  4. Corns (24 percent)
  5. Ingrown toe nails and athlete’s foot (both 20 percent)
  6. Bunions (13 percent)
  7. Joint problems (11 percent)
  8. Excessive foot odour (9 percent)
  9. Arthritis (8.8 percent)
  10. Muscular problems (8 percent)

Looking good, feeling pain

The report also looks at how much women put up with in the name of fashion when it comes to their feet. For instance, 43 percent say they’ve continued to wear uncomfortable shoes, even though they hurt their feet, while 36 percent have worn shoes they knew didn’t fit them, just because they looked nice.

It also takes an average of one hour, six minutes and 48 seconds for women to feel pain when wearing high heels, with one in five women saying their feet start to hurt within just 10 minutes of putting on heels. Younger women may well be more affected, since 20 percent of those aged 18 – 24 say they own a pair of six-inch high heels, compared with 10 percent of 25 – 42-year-olds and three percent of 35 – 44-year-olds.

“It’s shocking how little regard we show for our feet,” says Lorraine Jones, a podiatrist from The College of Podiatry.

“Feet are one of the hardest working parts of the body and in a lifetime you will walk in excess of 150,000 miles. As a result of general wear and tear, most of us will suffer with some sort of foot complaint at some point in our lives, but we are seeing a lot of cases which could have been prevented – particularly among women.”

The best way to prevent pain associated with high heels is to change your shoes, says Lorraine: “We all like to look good but it’s important to take a common sense approach to footwear. High heels and flip flops are fine to wear occasionally but not all the time. For day to day wear you should opt for a well-fitting round-toed shoe with a heel height of around 3cm.”

But if you have any other common foot problems, here’s a quick guide to what you can do about them, whether you’re male or female.

Foot odour

To keep your feet smelling sweet, wash them at least once a day and take care to dry properly between your toes. You could also use cotton wool dipped in surgical spirit to dab between your toes after washing them or having a bath or shower, as this helps to dry out the skin really well. If washing them with ordinary soap doesn’t do the trick, try using an antibacterial soap or an over-the-counter foot hygiene product (ask your pharmacist to recommend one that would work well for you).

Always wear clean socks made from at least 70 percent cotton or wool, and don’t wear the same pair of shoes every day (alternate them on a daily basis so they can dry out). You could also try socks that are designed to keep your feet dry – such as some sports socks – or socks that have been treated with antibacterial chemicals to help prevent the bacteria that cause the bad smell.

Other things you can do include using medicated insoles (again, your pharmacist can recommend a product for you) and avoiding wearing shoes that don’t breathe, such as plastic ones. Wherever possible, wear sandals in the summer too and go barefoot regularly when you’re at home (however, never walk barefoot if you have diabetes).

Verrucas

A type of wart usually found on the soles of your feet, verrucas look like small, dark, flat puncture marks in the early stages, later turning grey or brown, and are spread by indirect contact (from communal changing area floors, for instance, or the areas around swimming pools).

Your local pharmacy will have one or more treatments for verrucas, such as creams or gels containing salicylic acid. Just ask your pharmacist to recommend a product that will help. But if your verruca becomes painful and the surrounding skin goes red, stop using any treatment and talk to your pharmacist before doing anything else. However, if you have poor circulation – associated with diabetes, for example, or peripheral vascular disease – don’t use any products containing salicylic acid without your doctor’s advice, as you could risk damaging your skin, nerves and tendons.

If you do have a verruca, don’t let it spread to other people. Cover it with a waterproof plaster when you go swimming, and always wear pool sandals or flip flops in communal changing rooms and showers.

Corns and calluses

When your feet are exposed to pressure or friction – from badly fitting shoes, for instance, or from standing for long periods of time – the result can be corns or calluses (corns usually appear on joints, while calluses are usually found on the sole of the foot).

Again, your local pharmacy stocks several products that can be used to treat corns, including creams containing an ingredient called urea that hydrates thickened skin, and corn plasters. Always ask your pharmacist about the correct way to use these products, as some may damage the healthy tissue around corns.

Calluses can also be treated with rehydrating creams. Also ask your pharmacist about pumice stones and foot files, both of which you can use to remove the hard skin gently when you’re in the bath or shower.

Fungal infections

Athlete’s foot is a skin infection caused by a fungus that can lead to itching, cracked, blistered and peeling areas of skin between the toes. If you don’t treat it, the infection can spread. This may cause a fungal nail infection, where your toenails become thick and yellow.

If you have athlete’s foot, wash your feet regularly using soap and water, and dry your feet carefully, especially between your toes. Like veruccas, fungal infections are highly contagious, so don’t share towels with anyone. There are also lots of types of treatments you can try; these include creams, sprays, liquids and powders, all of which are available at pharmacies (your pharmacist can recommend one that will be suitable for you).

Fungal nail infection is also very common, affecting around three in every 100 people. You can also buy over-the-counter remedies for these infections, such as nail lacquer, pens and creams. Ask your pharmacist for advice on which type of treatment would work the best for you.

Ingrowing toenails

Most commonly affecting the big toe, ingrowing toenails can be very painful. They are often caused by badly fitting or tight shoes, and by trimming toenails incorrectly (always cut your nails straight across, don’t cut them at an angle, including at the sides).

Keeping your feet clean can help stop a mildly inflamed ingrowing toenail getting any worse, as can wearing shoes that give your toes ‘wriggle’ room and taking painkillers such as paracetamol to relieve any pain. If, however, your toenail doesn’t improve, see your GP – as you may need antibiotics if your toenail has become infected – or a podiatrist (find one in your area by visiting www.nhs.uk/Service-Search or www.scpod.org/find-a-podiatrist).

Bunions

If you have a bunion, your big toe points in towards your second toe and you may have a bony swelling next to the big toe. Anyone can develop a bunion, but according to the NHS they are more common in women than men. It’s also thought that bunions run in families, and can be made worse by badly fitting shoes.

The first treatment you could try for a bunion should be a non-surgical one, such as bunion pads and orthotics, plus painkillers if your bunion is painful – all of which are available at pharmacies. These can relieve the pain and discomfort of a bunion, but they won’t remove it or stop it getting worse.

The only way to get rid of a bunion is to have surgery. However, only cases where there is a significant amount of pain are usually referred for surgery assessment. Find out if you may be eligible by speaking to your GP.

Cracked heels

Cracked heels don’t just look unattractive, they can be painful too. Help prevent your heels from getting too dry and built-up with hard skin by moisturising them regularly – ask your pharmacist about creams designed to treat cracked heels, and look out for a deeply moisturising ingredient called urea. You can also use a pumice stone or foot file in the bath or shower to remove hard skin.

Blisters

These are little pockets of fluid in the upper layers of your skin that develop when your shoes rub your feet. Don’t try to burst a blister, as it could cause an infection. Just let the blister heal by itself – the skin will peel off on its own after the skin underneath has healed. If your blister is very big, see your GP, who may decompress the blister under sterile conditions.

To protect a blister – and to cushion it from any further friction caused by your shoes – you can cover it with a plaster. Ask your pharmacist about suitable plasters, including some that are specially designed for foot blisters.