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4 secrets to healthy feet

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June 25th, 2013
4 secrets to healthy feet
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Your feet have served you well over the years, so taking care of them is just as important as everything else you do for your health.

When it comes to keeping your feet in tip-top shape, a podiatrist can be a key member of your health care team. “Even if you are in excellent health, ask your doctor if a visit to a podiatrist would be beneficial for you,” says Eugenio Machado, M.D., medical director at Riderwood, an Erickson Living community in Silver Spring, Md.

Podiatrists are licensed medical professionals who have completed advanced training and residencies in areas such as orthopedics, surgery, biomechanics, or any combination of these specialties. You can learn a lot from your podiatrist, including many secrets to staying active on healthy feet.

Secret #1:

Take care of the little things.

Many people don’t see a podiatrist unless they have a major problem, including structural abnormalities, such as bunions and hammertoes, or a recurring wound. But podiatrists can also treat little problems that could turn into big ones.

“You tend to get less flexible as you age and something as simple as trimming your toenails can become a problem,” Machado explains. “You might accidentally cut your skin, and infection can set in. Even if you can trim your own toenails, sometimes they thicken with age and abrade your skin.”

“An infection from a cut or an ingrown toenail can quickly turn into an emergency, especially for people with diabetes or circulation problems,” says Lloyd Bowser, DPM, podiatrist at Oak Crest, an Erickson Living community in Parkville, Md. “It can spread to your skin, bones, or even throughout your body.”

Believe it or not, even a little corn or callous can be harmful to your health. “These can throw off your balance and gait stability,” Machado says. “You might not even notice it, and then you’re at risk for tripping or falling. A fall-related fracture can be devastating to your health and independence.”

To check for little changes, inspect your feet regularly. “Use a mirror if necessary,” Bowser says. “A small discoloration could be the beginning of a skin cancer, or your feet could be showing signs of a circulation problem.”

Secret #2:

Wear the right shoes.

“Improperly fitting shoes are the number one cause for problems in our patients,” Bowser says. “Not everyone is aware of how their feet change as they age. They might need a longer and wider shoe than they did ten years ago.”

A shoe has to fit right or you are at risk for stumbling and falling. “You might get an injury, such as a twisted ankle, or something worse, such as a fracture,” Bowser says. “If a shoe is uncomfortable or rubs a little, it causes you to walk differently. You may not notice it until the evening, when your feet tend to swell a little. And any pressure from a shoe can compress your nerves, veins, arteries, and the soft and hard structures of your foot.”

Too-tight shoes can cause blisters or other wounds that could become infected. In addition, loose shoes can cause your foot to slip and move around, which also makes your gait unsteady.

Wearing the proper socks is important. “Some people wear socks or stockings made from synthetic fabrics that promote fungus growth,” Bowser says. “Breathable cotton is better, and if your feet sweat, change your socks if necessary during the day.”

“If you’re not sure about your shoes, a podiatrist can take a good look at your feet and evaluate problems, recommend corrective shoes, or come up with another solution to help your balance,” Machado says.

Secret # 3:

Wear compression stockings.

“Even if you are healthy, if you live long enough, eventually your arteries and veins may not work as well as they used to, and the blood flow to your feet becomes diminished,” Machado says.

Compression stockings are one way to combat this problem, but many people won’t wear them because they feel tight. “These stockings need to be snug to work properly,” Bowser explains. “They cannot cut off your blood flow; rather they keep blood from pooling in your lower legs and feet and make your circulation more efficient throughout your body.

“Some people have problems putting compression stockings on or taking them off, but there are now assistive devices that can help,” Bowser adds.

Secret # 4:

Drink plenty of water.

“People may not think of water as important for their feet, but when you are even slightly dehydrated, your body takes water from your largest organ—your skin,” Bowser says. “Dry skin on your feet can lead to breakdown or infection.”

Along with drinking more water, daily applications of lotions and creams can help combat dry skin. “Don’t use oily products—they can be too slippery,” Bowser advises. “There are some new products coming out soon that will keep skin moist for a very long time. Ask your podiatrist for a recommendation.”

Good foot health is necessary for you to enjoy life. “Healthy feet keep you active, safe, and comfortable,” Bowser says. “See a podiatrist and take your feet seriously.”

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