Keeping your feet pain-free is surprisingly easy. Healthy measures include good hygiene, self-examinations, and properly fitting shoes.
Healthy feet are important for feeling good and staying active. So if you neglect your feet, that can lead to unnecessary pain and other foot problems, says Elizabeth Kurtz, DPM, a podiatrist in Chicago and spokesperson for the American Podiatric Medical Association (APMA).
Fortunately, it’s easy to keep your feet healthy. Use these tips to keep yourself active and your feet pain-free.
- Keep your feet clean and dry. Healthy feet start with good hygiene. Thoroughly clean and scrub your feet with soap and water when you bathe. Afterward, dry them well. Fungal organisms love moisture, so depriving them of any wetness will make it more difficult for them to thrive. “Be sure to dry well between each individual toe,” says Dr. Kurtz. “Any excess moisture between the toes can create a great environment for a fungal infection to begin.”
- Examine your feet for problems. Perform a foot self-exam once a week when you take a bath or shower, recommends Kurtz. As you’re drying off your feet, take a good look on the soles for any scaling and between your toes for peeling areas. That could signal athlete’s foot. Also look for discoloration of the nails, which could indicate a nail fungus. If you have diabetes, you should inspect your feet every day since diabetes leads to higher risk of foot sores and infections.
- Cut toenails properly. Cut nails straight across and avoid trimming too close to the skin or drastically rounding the corners of the nails, which can cause painful, ingrown toenails.
- Don’t hide “ugly” toenails with polish. A discolored, thick, cracked, or crumbling nail could signal a nail fungus. Applying nail polish to an infected nail could make the problem worse.
- Protect your feet in public areas. Be sure to wear shower shoes at the gym, in locker rooms, and at public pools. These places tend to be breeding grounds for fungi that can lead to infections.
- Avoid sharing footgear. “You can get fungal infections by wearing other people’s shoes, as well as socks worn by another person,” says Kurtz. This includes rentals. Always wear your own footgear to help keep your feet healthy.
- Head off sweaty feet. Your feet have sweat glands galore — 250,000 in each foot! Perspiration creates the perfect environment for bacteria to set up shop. Wearing socks that keep feet dry will help your feet stay healthy. “Socks made of synthetic fibers tend to wick away moisture faster than cotton or wool socks,” says Kurtz. Also avoid wearing excessively tight pantyhose, which trap moisture.
- Choose breathable footwear. To help keep your feet dry and healthy, wear shoes made of leather to allow air to circulate. If you’re prone to excessively sweaty feet, look for shoes made of mesh fabrics for maximum breathability.
- Wear shoes that fit properly. Shoes that are too tight can cause long-term foot problems, says Kurtz. Shop for shoes at the end of the day to compensate for foot swelling that occurs later in the day, and wear the same type of socks or hosiery you’ll be wearing with the shoes. Choose a broad, rounded shoe with plenty of room for your toes and a wide, stable heel. Avoid pointy shoes, which can cramp your toes and cause ingrown toenails and calluses.
- Know when to see a doctor. Don’t attempt to self-treat painful foot woes. “I see many patients who have attempted what I call bathroom surgery, and they’ve made the problem worse,” says Kurtz. Any pain, redness, swelling, or discoloration that persists should be checked out by a podiatric physician. Usually the problem can be cleared up with prescription medicine or a minor in-office procedure. Allowing a doctor to take a look will help prevent minor problems from becoming major ones.