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The human foot is one of nature’s marvels. Becoming “bipedal” – or walking upright on two feet – was an essential development in the evolution of the human species. Every day, your tootsies absorb the equivalent of several hundred tons of force as you walk through normal daily tasks. Usually, the feet do this effortlessly.
However, the complexity of the foot’s bone and tendon structure and the enormous demands upon it leave this body part more vulnerable to injury than any other.
Fortunately, there are some key steps you can take to preserve the health of these hard-working extremities.
Each foot packs an amazing amount of anatomical material into a relatively small space. In addition to a network of blood vessels and nerves, the foot includes:
Your two feet work together every day to share the burden of moving the body. However, this constant stress makes your feet especially vulnerable to injury.
Problems can arise due to sudden injury or gradual wear and tear. Certain conditions, such as those affecting the nerves, can make the foot more prone to problems. (Diabetes, for instance, is a major culprit in foot disorders.) Finally, basic neglect of the feet can cause problems, many of which are preventable.
About 75 percent of Americans experience foot problems at some point during their lives, according to the American Podiatric Medical Association. Common foot problems include:
A little extra care can go a long way toward preventing these problems. Keep the following three steps in mind to help guide your feet down the pathway to good health.
Most of us take our feet for granted, but these appendages require more tender love and care than many other body parts. Each foot contains 250,000 sweat glands. The perspiration from these glands combines with bacteria to cause both fungus and foot odor.
Washing the feet carefully every day can eliminate these problems. All that is needed is some lukewarm water, a mild soap and a washcloth. Wash the entire foot, paying special attention to the area between the toes. Cleaning the foot helps remove dead skin, bacteria and fungus. Be sure to carefully dry off afterward, especially between the toes.
If obesity or health reasons make it difficult to reach the foot, you can use a long-handled brush to get to those hard-to-reach areas.
Does the skin on your feet become cracked during the dry winter months? If so, regularly apply moisturizing lotion to your feet, up to several times a day.
A proper pair of shoes protects your feet the way a well-fitting glove protects your hand on a cold winter day. In contrast, shoes that fit poorly can do more harm than good.
When shopping for shoes, choose comfortable footwear with flat heels that offer increased support. High heels and shoes that squeeze your foot aggravate osteoarthritis and bunions, especially in people already genetically prone to them. Bunions are more common in women than men, often due to women wearing high heels and other uncomfortable shoes more frequently then men. Shoes that fit too tightly also may cause blisters, calluses, corns and nerve growths called neuromas. Over time, improperly fitting shoes may lead to hammertoes.
Do not subscribe to the myth that new shoes need to be “broken in.” Shoes should feel comfortable immediately, with room to wiggle your toes. The soles of the shoes offer crucial support to your foot. Make sure the soles are strong and flex at the ball of the foot.
Athletes should select shoes that are appropriate for their activity. These shoes should fit correctly and be comfortable. There should be a space between the end of the biggest toe and the end of the shoe that is about as wide as one thumb width. Replace your shoes after 200 to 400 miles of use.
Toenails can be a major source of foot problems. In some cases, the nail may start to grow into the surrounding skin. This is known as an ingrown toenail, and it often results from improperly trimming the nail. You should trim your nails straight across the toe, being careful not to cut them too short.
Salon pedicures are becoming increasingly popular. However, it’s crucial that you select a salon that takes proper precautions to prevent infections. For example, some salons do not properly clean or disinfect footbaths, which then become a breeding ground for bacteria.
Do not patronize any salon that is not properly licensed. Also, ask how often instruments and tubs are sterilized. If you are extra cautious, you may want to bring your own instruments, so long as they are properly maintained.