Many people ignore their feet – parts of the body that should be given a lot of care and attention. A pair of feet has 52 bones, 38 muscles and more than 200 ligaments. Our feet take approximately 8,000 to 10,000 steps a day. That’s a lot of wear and tear, especially if you’re active. But the good news is the following foot problems are preventable with the proper care.

Ill-fitting shoes

A lot of women don’t realize foot size changes with age. The American Orthopaedic Foot and Ankle Society recommends you have your feet remeasured every two years, so you can adjust your shoe size. Feet should be measured in the afternoon when they have spread. Since one foot is often bigger than the other, buy shoes to fit the larger foot.

Nine out of 10 women wear shoes that are too small, according to a recent study at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. So don’t assume you can “break in” a shoe. Always try on shoes with the same sort of socks or stockings you plan to wear with them. Be sure the widest part of the foot corresponds with the same area of the shoe. The tip of your longest toe should be at least one-half inch from the end of the shoe while you are standing. Choose a shoe with a rounded toe box that fits the width of your foot. The heel should fit snugly. The more a shoe mimics the shape of your foot, the less wear and tear on your feet.

For exercising, pick a shoe designed for your sport of choice. Sport shoes should be the same width as your foot; dress shoes can be slightly narrower.

80% of women who wear high heels experience foot problems. Ideally, heels should be no higher than one-half inch. However, the higher the heel, the wider it should be in order to provide support and stability.

Pick shoes made of yielding materials, such as leather which breathes better than synthetic materials. Patent leather is a poor choice because it’s stiff and inflexible. Always wear socks or stockings with shoes. Socks made of acrylic fibers are best.

Foot Odor

Feet have more sweat glands than any other part of the body, approximately 250,000 of them. In the United States, 42 million people suffer from foot odor. Foot odor results from the breakdown of fats and oils by bacteria on the surface of the skin. Avoid cotton or nylon hosiery, which traps moisture. Don’t wear the same pair of shoes several days in a row. If that doesn’t work, try an over-the-counter foot deodorizer or drying agent.

Blisters

Foot blisters, a painful problem for walkers, hikers and joggers, are common in hot weather when feet sweat and swell more. Blisters are caused by friction between the two top layers of skin. Shoes that are too big let the foot slide around, creating friction. Wet skin also increases friction. To avoid blisters, keep feet dry and wear proper shoes for your activity.

Athlete’s Foot

Symptoms of athlete’s foot include painful itching and irritation, cracked, scaly skin and blisters. To prevent athlete’s foot, always wear sandals or rubber thongs in locker rooms, public showers or at the pool. Keep feet dry.

Hammertoes

Hammertoes are caused by a muscular imbalance that causes the toe to bend into a claw-like position. There are no home remedies; it is necessary to see a podiatrist.

Bunions

Bunions are bony lumps on the knuckle of the big toe. Women tend to get them more often than men. Contrary to popular belief, bunions are not caused by shoes that are too tight. The tendency toward them is inherited, usually from the maternal side of the family. Podiatrists can correct the problem with a minor operation known as a bunionectomy, which shaves down the bone in the toe.

Plantar Warts

Plantar warts are not only ugly, they’re painful. They can be treated with mildly acidic over-the-counter medications. A doctor can speed up the process by applying a stronger acid, cutting them out or pulverizing them with a needle. They can also be burned, frozen or lasered off.

Corns

Corns occur when toes rub up against each other or shoes. The irritated skin becomes thick and presses down on nerve endings. Use pads to cushion corn-prone areas. For calluses and dry skin on the toes, heels and soles of your feet, try soaking your feet in warm water. Then, use a pumice stone to work away any excess dry skin.

Ingrown Toenails

An ingrown toenail occurs when the sides of a toenail grow into the skin, causing redness, swelling, pain and sometimes infection. Causes are improper nail trimming, injury or a fungus infection. Do not try to remove the ingrown part of the nail yourself or it may become infected. Soften the inflamed skin around the problem nail in warm, soapy water. Dry the area, then apply an over-the-counter antibiotic cream. To help prevent ingrown toenails, cut your toenails straight across. Do not trim them too short or deeply in the corners.

Cramps

Cramps in the arch of the foot are caused by strained, over-stressed muscles. Wear shoes that offer maximum support in the ankle and arch. Stretch and knead the affected area.

Toe Imbalance

A toe imbalance, often called a duck walk, is the result of habit and leads to bunions and arch problems. Walk with toes pointed forward and close together (about three inches apart) to keep body weight evenly distributed over the arches.

Swelling

Feet normally swell in the heat. In fact, they may become as much as a half to a whole shoe size bigger by evening. Walking as much as possible helps because when the leg muscles contract and relax they act as a pump, pushing fluid out of the extremities.

Heel Pain

Frequently, heel pain stems from natural aging, caused by the shrinkage in the fat cushion at the heel of the foot. Massage your feet and heels to increase circulation, which can combat inflammation.

Nerve Damage

Morton’s neuroma, a sharp, hot/cold pain usually in the area between the third and fourth toes, is a result of damage to the nerve. It comes from the trauma of wearing tight shoes that press on the balls of the feet and walking on hard surfaces. Start by putting padding in your shoes under the balls of your feet. If that fails, a doctor may inject cortisone around the damaged nerve. The last option is surgery to remove the problem segment.

Plantar Fasciitis

Plantar fasciitis occurs when the band of tissue running under the arch from the heel to the base of the toes is stretched and pulled too much. Sufferers say their feet ache when they get out of bed, the pain lessens during the day and then gets worse again at night.

To ease the pain, use arch supports (orthotics). They can be used to correct alignment so your foot hits the ground evenly, shore up weak arches and provide stability. Since each person’s foot is unique, arch supports should be custom-made. Supports should be of medium hardness and as long as your arch (from the heel to the ball of the foot). When you walk you should feel them nestle against the foot, but after a few minutes they should be so comfortable they’re unnoticeable.

Your feet can give you clues to your overall health. A pins-and-needles sensation and numbness in the toes are typical complications of diabetes. Numbness and tingling may be caused by damage to certain nerves. You could injure your foot and not even know it, which increases your chances of a serious infection.

Coldness, numbness or tingling in your feet, or pain and blueness of the toes could signal hardening of the arteries in your legs or Raynaud’s disease, a disorder of the blood vessels. Left untreated, the diminished blood flow to your feet could lead to painful sores or gangrene, in which the tissue dies and may require amputation. Cramps in the feet or calves that keep you from walking for more than a short distance are another sign of hardening of the arteries.

Sudden changes in the color, shape or overall appearance of your toenails could indicate a problem (if they haven’t been injured). White or bluish nails could signal a circulation disorder. Nails also turn white when they’re separating from the underlying skin. This could signal a fungus infection. If your nails become brittle, ridged or concave (bent up), you could be suffering from iron-deficiency anemia.

Your feet are too important not to take care of them. Do your feet a favor and put them first. If you take care of your feet, they’ll take care of you.

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