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Reducing Your Risk of Foot Pain

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General Guidelines

Follow these foot care tips from the American Podiatric Medical Association:

  • Wash your feet with soap and water every day. Remember to wash between your toes.
  • Dry your feet after you wash them. It will help prevent fungus from growing. Remember to dry between your toes.
  • Keep your feet dry by changing your socks if they become wet.
  • Trim your toenails regularly. Cut them just above or at the edge of your toe. You can cut them straight across or with a slight curve.
  • Wear shoes that fit well and support your foot.

Specific Guidelines

Depending on your foot concerns and lifestyle, there are a various things you can do to protect your feet. These include:

Selecting Proper Shoes

Practicing Correct Walking and Exercise

Caring for Toenails

Preventing Toe Pain

Preventing Foot Disorders in Diabetes

Preventing Foot Problems in Childhood

Using Skin Creams and Foot Baths

Having Massage Therapy

Selecting Proper Shoes

In general, the best shoes are well cushioned and have a leather upper, stiff heel counter, and flexible area at the ball of the foot. The heel area should be strong and supportive, but not too stiff, and the front of the shoe should be flexible. New shoes should feel comfortable right away, without a breaking in period. There should be plenty of room for all five toes.

The best way to prevent nearly all foot problems is to choose well-fitted shoes with a firm sole and soft upper. You should purchase them in the afternoon or after a long walk, when your feet are at their largest size. There should be a ½ inch of space between your largest toe and the tip of the shoe, and the toes should be able to wiggle upward. You should stand when being measured, and both feet should be sized, with shoes bought for the larger foot. It is important to wear the same socks as you would regularly wear with the new shoes.

Ideally, your shoes should have removable insoles (See below: Insoles ). If you are an older person, thin hard soles may be the best choice. Elderly people wearing shoes with thick, inflexible soles may be unable to sense the position of their feet relative to the ground, which increases the risk for falling.

High heels are the major cause of foot problems in women. If you insist on wearing high heels, look for shoes with wide toe room, reinforced heels that are relatively wide, and cushioned insoles. You should also keep the amount of time you spend wearing high heels to a minimum.

The way shoes are laced can be important for preventing specific problems. Laces should always be loosened before putting shoes on. If you have narrow feet, you should buy shoes with eyelets farther away from the tongue than people with wider feet. This makes for a tighter fit for narrower feet and a looser fit for wider feet. If, after tying the shoe, less than an inch of tongue shows, then the shoes are probably too wide. Tightness should be adjusted both at the top of the shoe and at the bottom. When high arches cause pain, eyelets should be skipped to relieve pressure.

If your shoes require breaking in, place moleskin pads next to areas on your skin where friction is likely to occur. Once a blister occurs, moleskin is not as effective. Change shoes during the day. As soon as the heels show noticeable wear, you should replace the shoes or heels.

Exercise and Sports

The shoes you wear for exercise should be specifically designed for your preferred sport. For instance, a running shoe should cushion your forefoot, while tennis shoes should emphasize ankle support. Buy your shoes at a store with knowledgeable sales people.

Occupational Footwear

A number of occupations put the feet in danger. If you are in a high-risk job, you should be sure your footwear is protective. For example, nonelectric workers at risk for falling or rolling objects or punctures should wear shoes with steel toes and possibly other metal foot guards. Electric workers should wear footwear that does not have metal parts (or insulated steel toes) and rubber soles and heels. Chemical workers should wear shoes made of synthetics or rubber, not leather.

An insole is a flat cushioned insert that is placed inside the shoe. They are designed to reduce shock, provide support for your heels and arches, and absorb moisture and odor. People respond very differently to specific insoles. What works for one person may not work for you. The thickness of your socks must be considered when purchasing insoles. You do not want insoles to squeeze your toes up against your shoes.

Insoles can be purchased in athletic and drug stores. Shoe stores that specialize in foot problems often sell customized insoles that are more expensive. In general, over-the-counter insoles offer enough support for most people's foot problems. Most well-known brands of athletic shoes have built-in insoles.

Practicing Correct Walking and Exercise

In addition to wearing proper shoes and socks, you should also walk often and correctly to prevent foot injury and pain. Your head should be erect, your back straight, and your arms relaxed and swinging freely at your sides. You should step out on your heel, move forward with the weight on the outside of your foot, and complete the step by pushing off the big toe.

Caring for Toenails

Toenails should be trimmed short and straight across. Filing should also be straight across using a single movement, lifting the file before the next stroke. The file should not saw back and forth. A cuticle stick can be used to clean under the nail.

Preventing Toe Pain

To prevent corns and calluses and relieve discomfort:

  • Do not wear shoes that are too tight or too loose. Wear well-padded shoes with open toes or a deep toe box (the part of the shoe that surrounds the toes). If necessary, have a cobbler stretch the shoes in the area where the corn or callus is located.
  • Wear thick socks to absorb pressure, but do not wear tight socks or stockings.
  • Apply petroleum jelly or lanolin hand cream to corns or calluses to soften them.
  • Use doughnut-shaped pads that fit over a corn to decrease pressure and friction. They are available at most drug stores.
  • Place cotton, lamb's wool, or moleskin between the toes to cushion any corns in these areas.
Preventing Foot Disorders in Diabetes

Preventive foot care can reduce the risk of amputation in people with diabetes. Some tips for preventing problems include the following:

  • See your doctor regularly and make sure she checks your feet at each visit. Take off your shoes once you are in the exam room so that she sees your feet.
  • When cleaning your feet, avoid soaking them in water. Instead, wash your feet in warm water every day.
  • Completely dry your feet. Do not forget to dry between your toes!
  • If you have dry skin, rub lotion on your feet after they are washed and dry. Do not put lotion between your toes.
  • Cut your toenails straight across. It may be easier to cut them after washing your feet, since the nail will be softer. Do not cut them too short.
  • Use a pumice stone regularly to keep calluses thin. Do not cut at them with sharp objects.
  • Wear socks or stockings. Wear them to bed if your feet are cold.
  • Wear shoes or slippers, even if you are at home. Make sure your shoes fit well. Also, make sure they are closed-toe. Do not wear sandals.
  • Keep your feet away from hot places, like a fireplace; hot bath or spa; or an electric blanket.
  • When shopping for shoes, try to go shopping at the end of the day. Your feet are biggest during this time of day, so you will be able to buy shoes that are not too tight.
  • If you can do so safely, put your legs up when sitting.
  • Keep blood flowing to your feet by wiggling your toes or rotating your ankles several times a day.
  • Do not use any medicine or ointments for your feet unless your doctor says it is okay.
  • Changes in the shape of your feet and toes can happen with nerve damage. Talk to your doctor about special shoes you can wear, rather than trying to force your feet into regular shoes.
Preventing Foot Problems in Childhood

The first year in a person's life is important for foot development. You should cover your baby’s feet loosely, allowing plenty of opportunity for kicking and exercise.

Children generally walk between 10-18 months; they should not be forced to start walking early. Wearing just socks or going barefoot indoors helps the foot develop normally and allows the toes to grasp. Going barefoot outside, however, increases the risk for injury and other conditions, such as plantar warts.

Children should wear shoes that are light and flexible. Since their feet perspire greatly, their shoes should be made of materials that breathe. Footwear should be changed every few months as the child's feet grow.

High-impact sports can injure growing feet. You should be sure that your children's feet are protected if they engage in intensive athletics.

Using Skin Creams and Foot Baths

Skin creams can help maintain skin softness and pliability. Taking a warm footbath for 10 minutes, two or three times a week will keep your feet relaxed and can help prevent mild foot pain caused by fatigue. A pumice stone or loofah sponge can help get rid of dead skin.

Having Massage Therapy

Here is an exercise you can use on your own feet:

Using your thumb, index, and middle finger, rotate each toe in a circular motion. Then, make a fist and rotate it slowly around the bottom of your foot. Finally, gently twist each foot, as if wringing wet clothes, moving the top and bottom in opposite directions.

Revision Information

  • Adult foot health. American Orthopaedic Foot and Ankle Society website. Available at: http://www.aofas.org . Accessed December 31, 2012.

  • Foot care. American Diabetes Association website. Available at: http://www.diabetes.org/living-with-diabetes/complications/foot-complications/foot-care.html . Accessed December 31, 2012.

  • Footcare 101. American Podiatric Medical Association website. Available at: http://www.apma.org/files/FileDownloads/myFEETFootCare101.pdf . Accessed January 10, 2013.

  • Prevent diabetes problems: Keep your feet and skin healthy. National Institute of Diabetes & Digestive & Kidney Diseases website. Available at: http://diabetes.niddk.nih.gov/dm/pubs/complications%5Ffeet/#skin . Updated May 2008. Accessed December 31, 2012.

  • Tips for healthy feet. American Podiatric Medical Association website. Available at: http://www.apma.org/learn/content.cfm?ItemNumber=1348&navItemNumber=535 . Accessed December 31, 2012.