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These are a few of the most common foot issues.
What it is: Plantar fasciitis is inflammation of a thick band of tissue from the heel bone to the arch of the foot. It’s very common in people who run, dance or even walk a lot on hard surfaces. The pain begins in the heel and often is worse when getting out of bed in the morning.
How to treat it: Rest, use a shoe insert that cushions the heel, and don’t try to “play through the pain.” Skip long walks on hard surfaces, and don’t do any impact activities such as jumping or running until the pain is gone. Ice the area and take ibuprofen or other over-the-counter (OTC) pain reliever as directed. When you can exercise comfortably again, wear shoes that aren’t worn out. Take frequent stretch breaks.
When to see the doctor: If the pain does not get better with OTC pain medicine or if you still can’t get around like normal within a week because of the pain, see a doctor. Start with your primary care doctor, who can refer you to an orthopedist or podiatrist if needed.
What is it: An ankle sprain is an injury to the ligaments when the ankle rolls, twists or turns awkwardly. It’s a common injury, especially in the summer when people tend to be more active and wear unstable shoes like flip flops and sandals, says Dr. Arnie Herbstman, a board-certified orthopedic surgeon and Blue Cross and Blue Shield Plan medical director.
How to treat it: Take weight off the injured ankle right away. Then follow the rules of RICE — rest, ice, compression and elevation. Take OTC pain relievers as directed. Once the sprain is healed, physical therapy can strengthen the ankle and help prevent future injuries.
When to see the doctor: See a doctor as soon as possible if you cannot put weight on the foot. Herbstman says it’s hard to tell without X-rays if the ankle is broken or sprained. See your doctor or go to an urgent care facility as soon as you are able so you can get the right treatment.
What is it: A bunion is a painful, bony bump that forms at the base of the big toe. They mostly occur in women, Herbstman says. That’s because they are often caused by tight shoes and aggravated by high heels. Heredity can also be a risk factor.
How to treat it: Soak your feet in warm water, wear extra-wide shoes and avoid high heels. If the shoe feels too wide, wear an extra sock, which can provide an extra cushion. Sometimes surgery is needed, especially if there is a noticeable bump.
When to see the doctor: If the pain persists and doesn’t improve with home treatment, see your primary care physician. You may need to see a specialist to discuss treatment options.
What is it: An ingrown toenail is usually found in the big toe. It occurs when the corner of the nail grows into the skin of the toe. It can be very painful to the touch, especially if it is deep in the skin, and can lead to infection if not treated. It can be caused by several things — heredity, shoes that fit too tight in the toe, trimming the edges of the toenails too short, nails that are too curved or sustaining an injury to the toe.
How to treat it: Many ingrown toenails can be treated at home. Soak your feet in warm water for 15 minutes three times a day. After soaking, put fresh bits of cotton or waxed dental floss under the ingrown edge. This helps the nail grow above that area. You also can put antibiotic ointment and a bandage on the sore area. When possible, wear sandals so the toe isn’t squeezed. Take OTC pain relievers as directed.
When to see the doctor: If your toe is very painful or the redness is spreading, see your doctor. There could be an infection that must be treated before it gets worse.
What is it: Arthritis is inflammation in your joints. Arthritis in the feet often feels like a dull ache in the middle of the foot or ankle, Herbstman says. It’s different from the sudden pain of an injury.
How to treat it: Most cases can be managed with lifestyle changes, OTC medicine and possibly a brace. But sometimes physical therapy or surgery is needed.
When to see the doctor: See your doctor if you are experiencing foot pain or swelling with no obvious cause. Herbstman says the best way to confirm arthritis is with an X-ray.
People with diabetes have special needs when it comes to foot pain. If you have diabetes, it’s important to not go barefoot. People with diabetes often have numbness in their feet, so they may not feel an injury. See your doctor for any kind of cut to your foot or an ingrown toenail that won’t heal. You also should let your doctor know about any other swelling, redness or pain in the feet.
Your feet are what keep you moving throughout the day, so be sure to take care of them.
Dr. Herbstman has some suggestions for keeping a spring in your step every day:
Maintain a healthy weight. Excess weight causes strain on your feet and your joints. Just going up and down steps puts stress that’s three times your body weight on your knees and hips. Get to a healthy weight and do your best to stay there.
Wear shoes that fit well. Ill-fitting shoes can cause all kinds of foot problems. Get your athletic shoes from a place that specializes in them so you can be fitted properly. Avoid flimsy sandals and flip flops. Look for soles that are sturdy and won’t bend in half. If you aren’t sure of your correct size, get measured so you know the exact size and width you need.
Don’t do things that hurt. It sounds obvious, but Herbstman says people often get so into exercise or other activities that they don’t want to stop, even when it hurts. If there is any soreness beyond normal muscle aches, modify your activity until it heals or you get the OK from your doctor. If you have foot pain, instead of jumping or running, try swimming or riding a bike, which has much less impact.
See your doctor. Herbstman says if you have a foot problem that is not getting better, it may be time to have a doctor take a look. An untreated foot problem can cause serious long-term problems. Get it taken care of quickly so you can be back on your feet again.
Originally published 7/27/2015; Revised 2021
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