Did you know most Americans log about 75,000 miles on their feet by the time they reach age 50?1 That’s roughly three times around the world!2 And if you want your feet to continue getting you where you need to go for another 50 years, taking good care of them is paramount. With proper detection, intervention, and care, most foot problems can be lessened or prevented.1 Here are 10 tips for maintaining healthy feet.
1. Maintain a Healthy Weight
Being overweight affects the feet by putting greater force on them with each step.3 Research shows that roughly every pound of body weight results in three pounds of force being exerted on the feet when walking and seven pounds of force being exerted when running.4 Carrying extra body weight can increase the risk of developing arthritis and/or worsen pain from other foot problems.5 Obesity also increases the risk for developing Type 2 diabetes, which can cause poor blood circulation, especially to the feet, and a condition called diabetic neuropathy, a very painful condition in which the nerves become damaged throughout the body, particularly in the legs and feet. Damage caused by Type 2 diabetes can be so severe that amputation of the feet and lower legs may be necessary.4,6
2. Wear Appropriately Sized, Well-fitting, Quality Shoes
Fashion trends come and go, but damage from wearing poorly fitted or poorly made shoes can last a lifetime. Investing in appropriate shoes is one of the best preventive measures you can take to maintain healthy feet. Factors to consider when buying shoes include how long you will be wearing them, the types of activity they’ll be used for, how easily they dry, the shape of the sole, and amount of support.7 To find the best fit, consider going to a shoe store to have your feet professionally measured, even if you plan on buying your shoes from another store or online.
3. Routinely Stretch Your Feet
Regularly stretching your feet can prevent injury, restore or increase range of motion, strengthen muscle, and increase flexibility.8 Even if your feet have become stiff with age or lack of stretching, research shows that you can still improve your flexibility.9 The easiest way to build flexibility is through slow and gentle daily stretches, focusing on one group of muscles at a time.10
4. Protect Your Toes from Chronic Dampness/Wetness
Whether your feet are damp from exercise, excess sweating, rain, or showering, make sure to thoroughly dry them afterwards. Damp, sweaty feet are more prone to bacterial infections, especially in the area between the toes. If left unchecked, continually damp feet can increase risk of developing a painful or itchy fungal infection, such as athlete’s foot. To prevent this, try putting foot powder inside your socks and incorporating extra foot baths into your foot care regimen.3 You can also try alternating pairs of shoes to allow them to dry out completely between each use.11
5. Massage Your Feet
Like the neck, back, and shoulders, the feet can also benefit from a massage. Gently rubbing your feet can relax your muscles, help ease pain, and promote circulation.
6. Regularly Inspect Your Feet for Injury or Abnormalities
The health of your feet can tell you a lot about your overall health. At least once a week, consider looking over your feet for unusual symptoms or abnormalities, such as cold toes or feet, pain, discoloration or deformed toes, ulcers, swelling, numbness or tingling, or ingrown toe nails.12 If you have an open sore, cut, or puncture on your foot, clean it and cover it. If it does not improve within a day or two, call your doctor. In short, if you see something, say something.
7. Protect the Skin of Your Feet from Sun Damage
Skin cancer can develop anywhere on the body, including the feet and toes. But because most people never check their feet for signs of it, it can spread before it’s noticed.12 Skin cancers of the feet have several features in common such as painlessness, a history of recurrent cracking, bleeding, or ulceration, and unrelated ailments near the affected site.14
8. Maintain Healthy Foot Hygiene
You wouldn’t go a day or two without brushing your teeth, and the same applies to your feet. You should clean your feet daily with warm water, soap, and some scrubbing.15 A washcloth will suffice, but a bristle brush will slough off dead skin more effectively. Make sure to thoroughly dry your feet afterwards, especially between the toes. If you’re wondering whether a shower or a bath is better for foot hygiene, both are fine. Just don’t soak them for too long. The longer you soak your feet, the more likely you are to strip away too many of the skin’s natural oils, leading to dryness.15
9. Keep the Skin of Your Feet Moisturized
The best time to moisturize your feet is immediately after cleaning them. The skin on the feet can dry out more quickly than other parts of the body because they contain a lot of sweat glands that jettison moisture, and only few oil glands to keep moisture in.15 Moisturizing prevents cracks and other openings in the skin that could let in bacteria. Most lotions will do, but ones with lactic acid, salicylic acid, and/or urea work well on exfoliating dead, dry skin. Avoid applying the moisturizer to the area between your toes.
10. Keep Your Toenails Clipped and Filed (but not too much)
Always cut toenails straight across and never into the corners. This could cause an ingrown toenail. Instead, gently file sharp corners or rough edges with an emery board. Similarly, clip your nails regularly. Having long toenails can cause painful nail problems, such as ingrown toenails, broken toenails, and toenail-related infections.
Health Conditions That Can Affect Your Feet
Part of maintaining healthy feet is knowing when something is wrong. Here are five common conditions to look out for.
Athlete’s Foot. Athlete’s foot is a skin disease caused by a fungus. This fungus is commonly associated with feet because of the warm, dark, and humid environment created inside the shoes, which encourages fungal growth, that can spread to other parts of the body.17 Athlete’s foot is characterized by itching, flaking, and fissuring of the skin, particularly between the toes, and effects 15 to 25 percent of the population. It can manifest in three ways. The skin between the toes may appear white and soggy, the soles of the feet may become dry and scaly, and the skin all over the foot may become red, and vesicular eruptions may appear.17,18
Ingrown Toenails. Ingrown toenails are one of the most common nail impairments. Usually, toenails grow straight out. Ingrown toenails occur when nails or their corners or sides dig painfully into the soft tissue of nail grooves, often leading to irritation, redness, and swelling.18 The big toe is the most common location for this condition, but other toes can become affected. Most cases can be treated at home by soaking the affected area in warm salt water and applying an antiseptic and bandage, but severely ingrown toenails may need to be surgically removed.
Sprains, Strains, and Fractures. Normally, your feet and ankles work together to provide support and mobility to the body, but an injury can disrupt this support altogether. Foot or ankle sprains, which are fairly common, are soft tissue injuries that can sometimes be remedied at home with ice, rest, and elevation. A fracture, however, is a break in the bone, which requires immediate care.
Warts. Plantar warts are a painful soft tissue condition caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV) which are found on the soles of the feet. The HPV can invade the skin through small or invisible cuts and abrasions on the feet. These types of warts are usually contracted by walking barefoot on dirty surfaces where the virus is lurking.20 The causative virus thrives in warm, moist environments, such as locker rooms or showers. Despite many over-the-counter removal options available, self-treatment is generally not advisable. Instead, it is best to consult with a podiatrist who can confirm the diagnosis and surgically remove the lesion(s).
Plantar Fasciitis. Plantar fasciitis is one of the most common causes of heel and arch pain.21 It occurs when the thick band of tissue – the plantar fascia – that runs across the bottom of your foot and connects your heel bone to your toes becomes inflamed.22 This condition can cause acute pain across the bottom of your foot. There are several treatment options that range from rest and ice to injections in the sole of your foot. Ignoring plantar fasciitis may result in chronic pain that hinders regular activities, so visiting a podiatrist for treatment is recommended.
Exercise Your Feet. Standing still for too long on your feet can cause your muscles to cramp. You can prevent this by raising, pointing, and curling your toes for five seconds. Repeat this 10 times.23 You can also rotate your ankles to loosen the surrounding joints.
Pedicure Properly. Getting a professional pedicure is a great way to keep your feet looking nice, but can also put you at risk if done improperly. One study found that up to 52 percent of people who visit nail salons regularly (at least three times per year) developed skin rashes, nail issues, or fungal infection symptoms.25 This doesn’t mean you should abandon professional nail care altogether. Instead, make sure to carefully research salons to make sure they have safe and thorough disinfectant protocols. If you choose to do your own pedicure at home, make sure your tools are cleaned before and after use.
Keep Your Feet Warm During the Winter. Consider wearing padded or thick socks if you plan on being outdoors in cold weather for an extended amount of time. However, these socks should be moisture-wicking to prevent your feet from becoming damp. Keeping your feet warm and dry will not only prevent frostbite, but will keep you feeling more comfortable. If you’re wearing boots, make sure they can accommodate extra bulk from thicker socks without squeezing your feet.
Don’t Forget to Rest and Relax. Giving your feet a break, no matter the time of year, is beneficial. If you find you are on your feet a lot, elevate your legs and feet above your heart to reduce swelling by lying down on the floor and resting your feet/lower legs on a stack of pillows, a chair or sofa, or up against the wall. Do this a few times a day for 15 minutes at a time.26
Avoid Wearing High Heels or Stiff, Newly Purchased Shoes for Extended Periods of Time. Standing in high heels changes the way the body’s weight is distributed across the ball and heel of the foot, which can increase risk of foot-related injuries. Posture and gait changes from stiff or uncomfortable shoes can strain the Achilles tendons and the muscles in the feet and lower legs.24
- American Podiatric Medical Association website. Foot health. https://www.apma.org/Patients/FootHealthList.cfm?navItemNumber=25223. Accessed 15 Nov 2021.
- National Geographic Society website. Equator. https://www.nationalgeographic.org/encyclopedia/equator/#:~:text=The%20distance%20around%20the%20Earth,phenomenon%20called%20an%20equatorial%20bulge. Accessed 15 Nov 2021.
- American Podiatric Medical Association website. Tips for healthy feet. https://www.apma.org/Patients/HealthyFeetTipsList.cfm?navItemNumber=31088. Accessed 15 Nov 2021.
- Futch Podiatry website. Obesity and foot and ankle pain. https://futchpodiatry.com/common-conditions/obesity-foot-ankle-pain/. Accessed 15 Nov 2021.
- Price C, Nester C. Foot dimensions and morphology in healthy weight, overweight and obese males. Clin Biomech (Bristol, Avon). 2016;37:125-130.
- Harvard Health Publishing website. 5 ways to keep your feet healthy for better mobility. Updated 18 Jul 2019. https://www.health.harvard.edu/healthbeat/5-ways-to-keep-your-feet-healthy-for-better-mobility. Accessed 15 Nov 2021.
- Baravarian B. How shoes should fit: 13 tips from our podiatrists. Updated 1 Jan 2019. University Foot and Ankle Institute website. https://www.footankleinstitute.com/blog/13-expert-shoe-fitting-tips-from-our-podiatrists/. Accessed 15 Nov 2021.
- Chinn L, Hertel J. Rehabilitation of ankle and foot injuries in athletes. Clin Sports Med. 2010;29(1):157-167.
- Stathokostas L, Little RM, Vandervoort AA, Paterson DH. Flexibility training and functional ability in older adults: a systematic review. J Aging Res. 2012:306818
- Harvard Health Publishing website. Exercises for healthy feet. 3 Jul 2012. https://www.health.harvard.edu/healthbeat/exercises-for-healthy-feet. Accessed 15 Nov 2021.
- LaBarge M. 2016. 10 tips for maintaining healthy feet. Happy feet.com site. https://www.happyfeet.com/blog/maintain-healthy-feet/. Accessed 15 Nov 2021.
- Olsson R.8 things your feet can tell you about your health. 9 Apr 2020. Banner Health website. https://www.bannerhealth.com/healthcareblog/better-me/8-things-your-feet-can-tell-you-about-your-health. Accessed 16 Nov 2021.
- American Academy of Dermatology website. Signs that could be melanoma on your foot. https://www.aad.org/public/diseases/skin-cancer/types/common/melanoma/signs-foot. Accessed 16 Nov 2021.
- American Podiatric Medical Association website. Skin cancers of the feet. https://www.apma.org/skincancersofthefeet. Accessed 16 Nov 2021.
- Associates in Podiatry website. 5 healthy things you can do for your feet, right now. https://associatesinpodiatry.com/blog/healthy-foot-care/. Accessed 16 Nov 2021.
- Feet First Clinic website. How to cut your toenails like a professional. 18 Sep 2020. https://feetfirstclinic.com/blog/how-to-cut-your-toenails-like-a-foot-doctor/. Accessed 16 Nov 2021.
- Crawford F. Athlete’s foot. BMJ Clin Evid. 2009;1712.
- American Podiatric Medical Association website. Foot health. https://www.apma.org/Patients/FootHealthList.cfm?navItemNumber=25223. Accessed 16 Nov 2021.
- American Podiatric Medical Association website. Ingrown toenails. https://www.apma.org/Patients/FootHealth.cfm?ItemNumber=1522. Accessed 16 Nov 2021.
- American Podiatric Medical Association website. Warts. https://www.apma.org/Patients/FootHealth.cfm?ItemNumber=989. Accessed 22 Nov 2021.
- Jump Start from WebMD site. What is plantar fasciitis? https://www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/understanding-plantar-fasciitis-basics. Accessed 22 Nov 2021.
- Mayo Clinic Staff. Plantar fasciitis. Mayo Clinic website. Updated 11 Dec 2019. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/plantar-fasciitis/symptoms-causes/syc-20354846. Accessed 22 Nov 2021.
- American Podiatric Medical Association website. Tips to keep feet happy this holiday season. https://www.apma.org/Patients/HealthyFeetTips.cfm?ItemNumber=9850. Accessed 22 Nov 2021.
- Institute for Preventive Foot Health website. 6 quick holiday foot care tips. https://www.ipfh.org/foot-conditions/seasonal-articles/6-quick-holiday-foot-care-tips. Accessed 22 Nov 2021.
- Milich LJ, Shendell DG, Graber JM. Safety and health risk perceptions: a cross-sectional study of New Jersey hair and nail salon clients. J Chem Health Safe. 2017;24(6):7-14.
- Vayuvegula S. What are the health benefits of elevating your legs? Vein Clinics of America website. https://www.veinclinics.com/blog/what-are-health-benefits-elevating-your-legs/. Accessed 22 Nov 2021.