The human foot is a biological masterpiece. It comprises an intricate combination of 26 bones, 33 joints, over 100 ligaments, and a network of tendons, nerves and blood vessels working together to establish the graceful synergy that is walking and running.
The immense pressure placed upon our feet each and every step of every day causes many superficial ailments for the feet. Below is a short list of such ailments associated with day to day wear and tear on the feet.
The effect diabetes has on the feet can be, and often is, dramatic to say the least. Many people are aware that people with diabetes often end up with toes, feet or legs being amputated.
The reason for this is that diabetes can decrease your ability to feel pain within your feet, to the point that that you could literally walk around with a nail in your foot for days or weeks, without knowing it was there.
On top of this loss of protective sensation, diabetes can also reduce the amount of blood getting to the feet and toes. If the circulation is significantly impeded, any injury, be it by the nail mentioned above or even just a small scratch, may not heal. This can lead to infection that can then lead to amputation.
Now, this is the most important sentence in this whole section: major complications such as amputations can, and unfortunately all too often do, happen with diabetes; but they do not have to!
There is nothing written in stone that being diagnosed with diabetes will lead to foot problems and possible amputations.
When circulation and sensation is reduced within the body there are no major warning signs. This is another reason why there are so many foot complications attributable to diabetes. In many people's minds it is hard to justify going to a podiatrist when everything feels fine. In the case of diabetes, this mindset is wrong.
Everybody diagnosed with diabetes should have, at the minimum, an annual Diabetic Foot Assessment with your podiatrist. This assessment can help to identify deficiencies in circulation and protective sensation in order to prevent potential major problems.
Bunions are large bumps on the inside of the foot, at the joint just below the big toe (the 1st metatarso-phalangeal joint). Bunions are usually a combination of abnormal bone growth and a bursal sac (soft tissue fluid sac).
Bunions often cause the big toe to deviate towards the outside of the foot, sometimes causing the 2nd toe to lift up and sit on top of the big toe.
Development of bunions is influenced by genetics, abnormal foot function and footwear. Whilst footwear is not the single greatest cause of bunions, it will exacerbate any genetic and/or biomechanical influences you have.
Bunions are often not painful on their own. Footwear and abnormal foot function are usually the cause of pain associated with bunions. These influences can be addressed by your podiatrist.
Surgical correction/removal of bunions can be performed by an orthopaedic surgeon. This may be sought due to aesthetics or due to the bunion not allowing normal function of the associated joint. Bunion surgery is often painful and has a long recovery time. Moreover, bunions can reoccur even after surgery.
Your podiatrist can discuss common implications of surgery, how they can aid in recovery, and advise on surgeons who commonly perform such procedures.
A Taylor's Bunion, or Bunionette, forms on the outside of the foot at the 5th metatarso-phalangeal joint (just below the little toe). The causes and implications of a Taylor's bunion are similar to above; although far fewer require surgical treatment.
Corns and calluses are a build up of hard skin as a response to abnormal pressure or friction.
Calluses form to protect skin exposed to excessive pressure. Ironically, this often results in increased pressure and therefore pain. Removal of calluses is completely painless.
Corns are also a form of hard skin, but they are much denser than calluses. In fact, as any current or previous sufferers will testify to, corns are so dense that they feel like a small pebble or shard of glass within the foot.
There are several different types of corns, all of which form by excessive direct or indirect pressure. As with calluses, removal of corns is completely painless. This may be hard to believe considering how much discomfort and disability they can cause.
Your podiatrist can remove corns and calluses completely, without pain, even at your first consultation. That is the easy part. The harder part of treating corns and calluses is preventing a recurrence. This involves identification of the abnormal pressure that caused the corn or callus in the first place, and modification of this pressure. This can be as simple as a small silicone toe wedge made by your podiatrist, or as comprehensive as a customised shoe inlay or orthotic.
Ingrown toenails are a very common, painful condition where the corners or edges of a nail dig into the soft skin of your toe. Infection occurs frequently due to feet providing an optimum growth environment for microscopic bugs.
If you have, or think you have, an ingrown toenail apply an antiseptic to the nail edge and make an appointment with your podiatrist as soon as possible. Your podiatrist will remove the offending nail edge with minimal discomfort and advise on further antiseptic application required.
One or two follow-up appointments are often required to prevent a recurrence.
If your toenail continues to grow in such a way that ingrown nails are likely to be a frequent occurrence, your podiatrist can permanently remove the offending portion of nail with a minor surgical procedure under local anaesthetic.
Warts occur commonly on the feet and can be difficult to treat. Unlike many dermatological conditions that present superficially on the feet, warts are caused by a virus, known as the Human Papilloma Virus.
As the cause of a wart is systemic (i.e. a virus), removal of the wart does not guarantee it will not reoccur. All wart treatments, ranging from ointments to surgical removal, aim to trigger the body's immune system to develop a resistance to the virus. There is no cure for the virus at present.
Your podiatrist can advise on appropriate treatment of plantar warts.
Dry, cracked heels are usually caused by hereditary factors, wearing backless shoes and walking barefoot. Your podiatrist can painlessly remove the hard skin and advise on how you can control the problem. Daily application of a heel balm and regular use of a pumice stone can aid in preventing a build-up of hard, cracked skin.
Fungal nail infection, or onychomycosis, is a very common foot condition. Fungus requires a warm, humid, dark environment to grow, making feet a perfect breeding ground.
Infection occurs underneath the surface of the nail. It will often cause white, yellow or brown nail discolouration, thickening of the affected nails, and at times a foul odour.
Fungal infection occurs more frequently in later life as your body's natural defenses are preoccupied maintaining overall health and well-being. Injury to a nail, frequent use of nail polish and excessive perspiration within the feet will all increase the chance of infection.
Your podiatrist can advise on fungal treatment and assist with care of hard to cut fungal nails.
Thick toe nails are very common and hard to manage. The cause of thick toe nails is nearly always attributable to some form of damage to the nail matrix. The nail matrix is located behind the portion of nail that is visible and is where the nail grows from.
Damage can be in the form of an acute trauma such as a cow treading on the toe or by dropping a heavy object on the toe. Damage can also occur from a much milder trauma that is repeated constantly. This may be from poor fitting footwear of from pressure placed on toe nails in the instances of clawed and hammer toes.
Infection to the nail bed, often fungal, can also cause damage to the nail matrix.
Your podiatrist can easily and painlessly reduce the thickness of the affected nails, making them much more comfortable and easy to manage. Unfortunately however, the damage to the nail matrix is often irreparable and the nails will eventually become thick again.
Athlete's foot is a skin disease caused by fungus. It is a form of tinea that is characterised by dry, itchy, scaly skin either on the soles of the feet or between the toes (particularly the smallest toes).
Feet provide the perfect environment for fungal growth, that being warmth, humidity and darkness. Moist environments around pools and in showers and locker rooms facilitate fungal transfer between people.
Athlete's Foot can lead to fungal infection in other body regions, either by scratching and direct transfer to other body parts, or through contaminated bed sheets.
Your podiatrist can advise on treatment and prevention of Athlete's Foot.
Blisters are a classic case where prevention is a lot easier than cure. Blisters form due to friction between your skin and your shoe. Poor fitting shoes, or shoes that don't conform perfectly to your feet, will increase the chance of blister formation.
When new shoes are purchased, wear them for half an hour, take them off and check for any red marks. These red marks will indicate where blisters may form.
A small piece if rigid sports tape placed over the susceptible area will work wonders in preventing blisters.
If blisters do occur, your podiatrist can help provide speedy resolve.
Cramping of legs and feet are relatively common and often misunderstood. The information on cramps changes as often as you change your bed sheets.
It is known that cramps are caused by dehydration, low levels of certain minerals (magnesium, potassium, calcium, and sodium), reduced blood flow to the muscles, pregnancy, and other conditions such as thyroid disease and multiple sclerosis.
The problem comes with trying to determine which of these factors are the true cause of the muscle cramps. Your podiatrist can discuss these factors with you to try to determine the cause; and refer you on for further tests if required.