Keep your feet healthy by learning to recognize and treat common toe and foot problems.
A bony bump at the base of the big toe, a bunion causes that toe to deviate toward the others. Throwing foot bones out of alignment and producing the characteristic bump at the joint’s base, a bunion can be very painful due to pressure or arthritis, and may also lead to corns. Pain relievers, pads to cushion the bunion, custom shoe inserts, or surgery may help, as will wearing roomy shoes and avoiding high heels.
Corns and Calluses
Friction causes the thick, hardened, dead skin of corns and calluses, which form to protect sensitive skin. Appearing cone–shaped, corns point into the skin, and usually occur on areas that bear little weight. Calluses may appear anywhere there’s friction, and are more diffuse. Both may be caused by ill–fitting shoes and will fade when friction stops. Moleskin pads can help relieve a corn; calluses can be trimmed or surgically corrected.
Plantar warts are tough, horny growths that develop on the soles of the feet. Contagious, they’re caused by a virus entering through broken skin, and often spread via public pools and showers. Plantar warts are harmless and can be left untreated, but in many cases they’re too painful to ignore. Topical salicylic acid may help, while burning, freezing, laser therapy, and surgical removal are more aggressive options for more severe cases.
A fungal infection that can cause peeling, redness, itching, burning, and sometimes blisters and sores, athlete’s foot is mildly contagious, passed by direct contact or by walking barefoot in areas such as locker rooms, or near pools. The fungi then grow in shoes, especially tight ones without air circulation. Athlete’s foot is usually treated with topical antifungal lotions or oral medications for more severe cases.
Fungal Nail Infection
Occuring when microscopic fungi enter through a break in the nail, a fungal infection can make your nails thick, discolored and brittle. If left untreated, the nail infection won’t go away — and can be hard to treat. Thriving in warm, wet places, the fungi can be spread from person to person. Topical creams may help mild cases but antifungal pills are your best chance of curing a severe infection.
When toe muscles get out of balance, they can cause painful toe problems. While some people are prone to hammertoe, other risks include tight footwear. Hammertoe generally causes the middle joint of the toe to bend downward, with toes appearing raised near the foot. Well–fitted footwear with the correct amount of space in the toe box, shoe supports, and surgery may offer relief.
A toenail that has grown into the skin, an ingrown toenail can result in pain, redness, swelling, even infection. Cutting nails too short or not straight across, injury to the toenail, and wearing tight shoes are culprits. For mild cases, soak the foot in warm water, keep it clean, and wedge a small piece of cotton under the corner of the ingrown nail to lift it off the skin. Minor surgery can remove all or part of the nail.