Is it any wonder many of us suffer with foot problems when you consider our feet carry the entire weight of our bodies?
Problems with your feet can very quickly escalate and if not treated can affect the way you walk and in turn have an adverse effect on your knees, hips and other joints.
There are a number of different problems people have with their feet, and an array of products that can help treat foot problems.
Athlete's foot (tinea pedis) is a fungal infection of the feet that is easily spread and difficult to get rid of, and therefore important to treat it in the right away.
There is evidence to show fungal skin infections of the feet can be effectively managed by over the counter topical antifungal creams, lotions and gels.
If the area is sore or swollen you may need to see your GP.
A bunion is a bony deformity of the joint at the base of the big toe. Bunions can be very painful but there are a number of non-surgical treatments that can ease the pain. These include pain relief techniques (such as paracetamol), special pads (either made of gel or a fleecy material) or orthotics (for example: insoles or toe spacers). Where non-surgical treatments are no longer effective, for some people, surgery may be an alternative option.
A blister is a small pocket of fluid that forms in the upper layers of the skin. Blisters, although painful, should heal naturally between three and seven days.
See your doctor if you have blisters that:
- you think are infected
- are very painful
- keep coming back
An infected blister will be filled with yellow or green pus and may be painful, red and hot.
Chilblains are small, itchy swellings on the skin that occur as a reaction to cold temperatures. They most often affect the body's extremities, such as the toes, fingers, heels, ears and nose. Chilblains can be uncomfortable. For people with chronic chilblains it may be necessary to take a visit to your GP.
Regular chilblains should heal within a few weeks and not cause
permanent damage. A number of self-help measures include:
- wearing warm clothes and ensuring your home is well heated
- keeping active
- stopping smoking
- avoiding tight-fitting shoes and boots
Corns & calluses
Corns are small circles of thick skin that usually develop on the tops and sides of toes or on the sole of the foot. However, they can occur anywhere. Calluses are hard, rough areas of skin that are often yellowish in colour. They can develop on your foot, most often around the heel area or over the ball of the foot. They can also develop on the palms of the hands and knuckles. Calluses are larger than corns and do not have such a well-defined edge. As callused skin is thick, it is often less sensitive to touch than the surrounding skin.
Corns and calluses can be painful and whilst it is advisable to wear flat, wide fitting shoes, you may also wish to have treatment. A podiatrist or chiropodist may be able to remove the hard skin associated with corns and calluses to relieve the pressure felt on the area. There are also a number of over the counter products such as creams, corn plasters and insoles/wedges to wear inside shoes.
Dry skin & cracked heels
Dry skin, and in particular cracked heels, are commonplace particularly in women. There are a number of over the counter treatments that can be used such as foot files and creams, or perhaps having a pedicure!
Try to avoid the use of creams with alcohol and chemicals to maximize treatment results.
Paediatric pes planus ('flat feet') is a common childhood condition with a reported prevalence of 14%. Children with flat feet do not have a normal arch. It means that when the child is standing, the whole foot touches the ground. Sometimes this condition can cause pain, or change the way a child walks.
There are many types of non-surgical treatments for the pain and disability caused by flat feet, such as foot orthoses (shoe inserts), stretching, footwear selection and modifications, activity modifications, manipulation, applying a series of casts, losing weight (if appropriate) and medication for pain and inflammation. A custom foot orthoses is a medical device that is made from a custom mould of the child’s foot, prescribed by a qualified health-care professional. This should work to allow more normal foot and leg function and to decrease the pressure on parts of the foot that might be causing pain.
There is no conclusive non-surgical treatment to dramatically improve symptoms, however custom foot orthoses have been found alleviate some discomfort and improve physical function.
Fungal nail infection
Causes of fungal nail infection are associated with athlete’s foot and caused by yeast. There is some evidence that topical treatments are effective in treating fungal nail infections, but these need to be applied daily for prolonged periods (at least one year).
Although gout, a form of arthritis, is more common in men, there are an increasing number of women living with the condition. The most common symptom is sudden and severe pain in the joint, along with swelling and redness. Treatments range from self-care such as resting and elevating the limb, to taking anti-inflammatory medication or steroids.
In-growing toe nails
In-growing toe nails are a common problem and occur when the edge of the nail grows into flesh at the side of the nail, causing a painful injury. This punctured skin can become inflamed and infected. Most in-growing toe nails can be treated at home. It is good practice to ensure you trim nails straight across and push the skin away from the nail. If an in-growing toe nail is causing pain, then painkillers such as paracetamol can help.
If an in-growing toenail does not get any better, it may be that nail surgery is necessary. By comparison with non-surgical interventions, surgical interventions are more effective in preventing the recurrence of an in-growing toe nail.
Different non-surgical and surgical interventions for in-growing toe nails are available, but there is no agreement about a standard, first-choice treatment.
Warts & verrucas
Viral warts are a common skin disease, most frequently affecting the hands and feet, caused by the human papilloma virus. While warts are not harmful and usually go away in time without any treatment, they can be unsightly and painful. Warts on the soles of the feet are also called 'plantar warts' or 'verrucas'.
Salicylic acid (SA), a cheap and easily-available solution painted on to warts, had a definite but modest beneficial effect compared to placebo. It is effective for warts at all sites and has few adverse effects, but it may take several weeks of daily use to work.
There is mixed evidence on the use of different treatments for warts and verrucas. As warts and verrucas are caused by a virus, most will clear up without treatment. However, there are a number of treatments available that can be purchased over the counter. Salicylic acid based products come in different forms including; creams, gels, paints and medicated plasters. Cryotherapy/liquid nitrogen sprays, duct tape, and chemical treatments containing formaldehyde, glutarldehyde or podophyllin may also help.
If these treatments are not successful then it may be necessary to have the wart or verruca surgically removed by a chiropodist or podiatrist.
Sources used in writing this article are available on request
Information contained in this Articles page has been written by talkhealth based on available medical evidence. Our evidence-based articles are certified by the Information Standard and our sources are available on request. The content is not, though, written by medical professionals and should never be considered a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek medical advice before changing your treatment routine. talkhealth does not endorse any specific products, brands, or treatments.
Information written by the talkhealth team
Last revised: 19 March 2014
Next review: 19 March 2017