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Get the spring back into your step

Created date

April 24th, 2015

If your car has been sitting in a garage all winter and you’ve hardly driven it, you are likely to inspect the tires before you head out. Similarly, if you’ve been mostly inactive during the cold months, you should have your feet tuned up before you start your springtime activities.

Most people don’t give their feet much thought unless they are painful due to bunions, hammertoes, or wounds. But these and other problems could be on the horizon. 

When it comes to keeping your feet in tip-top shape, a podiatrist, like your doctor and dentist, can be a key member of your health care team. “No matter your state of health, practically anyone can benefit from a podiatrist’s services,” says Eugenio Machado, M.D., medical director at Rid..., an Erickson Living community in Silver Spring, Md. 

More than basic foot care

Podiatrists are licensed medical professionals who have completed advanced training and residencies in areas including orthopedics, surgery, biomechanics, or any combination of these specialties. 

“You tend to get less flexible as you age and something as simple as trimming your toenails can become difficult,” Machado explains. “Even if you can, toenails thicken with age and might scratch your skin, or they become ingrown.” 

“A minor wound from a cut or an ingrown toenail can quickly turn into an infection, especially for people with diabetes or circulation problems,” says Lloyd Bowser, D.P.M., podiatrist at Oak Crest, an Erickson Living community in Parkville, Md. “And those small infections can spread surprisingly quickly to your skin, bones, or throughout your entire body.”

Many people don’t know that a small corn or callous can be the start of something more serious. “Any growth on your feet can change your balance and gait stability,” Machado says. “You might not even notice, 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 discoloration could be skin cancer in an early stage, or you can have beginning signs of circulation problems.”

Wear proper shoes and socks

Even if your shoes feel very comfortable, they may not fit as well as they should,” Bowser says. “People don’t know how much their feet change with age,” Bowser says. “You might need a longer and wider shoe than you did 10 or 20 years ago.”

“If a shoe is uncomfortable or rubs a little, you walk differently and then you are at risk of a stumble or fall,” Bowser says. “Any shoe pressure can compress your nerves, veins, arteries, and the hard and soft structures of your foot. You may not notice discomfort until later in the day, when your feet tend to swell.” 

Shoes that are too tight can cause blisters that might become infected. In addition, loose shoes can cause your foot to move around, which also causes an unsteady gait.

Don’t forget your socks. “Socks or stockings made from synthetic fabrics can promote fungus growth,” Bowser says. “Cotton is breathable, and if your feet sweat significantly, change your socks.”

Improve your circulation

“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. “They need to be snug to work properly,” Bowser explains. “They do not cut off blood flow; rather they keep blood from pooling in your lower legs and feet, and make your circulation more efficient.

“There are assistive devices that can help you put compression stockings on,” he adds.

Try these tips for better foot health 

“Drinking water may not seem important for foot health, 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.”  

Daily applications of lotions and creams can alleviate dry skin. “Don’t use oily products—they can be too slippery,” Bowser advises. “There are some newer products that can keep skin moist for a very long time. Ask your podiatrist for a recommendation.”