Foot Facts: How to Appreciate and Care for Your Feet
Our feet are one of the most overlooked parts of the body, yet they are amongst the most important. Unless it’s time to get a sandal season pedicure, or we need new shoes because we’ve worn the old ones down to nothing, or until something starts to hurt, we tend not to give our feet too much thought. Many of us are guilty of even ignoring pain in our feet, which can make things even worse. For those of us lucky enough to walk, our feet carry all our body weight from place to place every day, and we simply take it for granted. When something does go wrong with our feet, potentially our whole body can suffer. It’s important to make certain our feet are cared for and properly supported, not just for our foot health but for our overall wellbeing.
To appreciate our feet more, here are some facts to help put our feet into perspective.
There are 26 bones plus two sesamoid bones in each foot (Tian-Xia et al. 2011: 1228; ACFAS 2017: par. 1). That’s five distal phalanges, four middle phalanges, five proximal phalanges, five metatarsals, four cuneiform bones, one cuboid, one navicular, one talus and one calcaneous. The two sesamoid bones are embedded in the tendon just below your big toe, which act as a pulley to help the motion of the big toe whilst running or walking (ACFAS 2017: pars. 1-2). Twenty-five percent of the bones in your body are in your feet (Tian-Xia et al. 2011: 1228).
Amongst these bones are 33 joints and 107 ligaments that join the bones together, and 19 muscles (or 20, if you count extensor hallucis brevis) that are held to the bones by tendons (Tian-Xia et al. 2011: 1228; Swierzewski 2015: par. 1; Speller 2017: par. 15). Without the ligaments, your bones and your joints wouldn’t stay in place; without the tendons and muscles, you wouldn’t be able to walk or even wiggle your toes.
In your feet alone, there are approximately 250,000 sweat glands, which produce about a half-pint of perspiration per day (Lowth 2015b: par. 3). Of course, with activity, your feet will sweat more (ibid: par. 12). That’s why it’s important to wear breathable socks made of natural materials, and wearing unbreathable and ill-fitting shoes without socks can mean damp, blistered feet and smelly shoes (ibid: pars. 20, 22).
When you consider there are ‘a thousand or more nerve endings in a square inch of skin’, plus all the nerves running in the foot amongst the muscles, ligaments and bones, it’s easy to see why the feet are very sensitive appendages (Curry 2014: par. 1). Hence the reason why stepping on something unpleasant or stubbing your toes can send you reeling, or feeling fresh spring grass under your feet can be elating. Moreover, if you suffer from neuropathy, which is a loss of feeling in the feet, it’s even more important that you check your feet daily as the loss of feeling means there is no way for the nerves to carry a signal that something is wrong. Continuing to ignore your feet when you don’t have feeling in them could lead to infected wounds and even amputation.
It’s perfectly normal to have one foot about a half-size longer than the other. Moreover, the best time of day to have your feet measured and shoes fitted is in the afternoon, when your feet are at their largest due to slight swelling from use (NHS 2015: par. 10). Some places may have you stand for your measurements, but here at ShoeMed, we advise that you remain seated to get the best measurement.
As we get older and/or gain weight, our feet tend to flatten out and spread, and the padding on our feet begins to thin (Lowth 2015a: pars. 1-2). Firstly, this is why it’s important to get your feet measured at least once a year. Secondly, you’ll need to make sure your feet stay cushioned and have plenty of support for the arches and metatarsals. This will protect your feet, keep them comfortable and prevent future problems.
The rest of your body depends on the balance and strength of the feet to hold you up and take you from place to place. Therefore, having foot problems can cause the rest of your body to fall out of alignment, creating further problems, such as with your back, hips and knees (NHS 2015: par. 1). If you keep your feet well cared for and supported, it will help keep the rest of your body healthy, too.
As your feet must last for your entire life, here are some guidelines to taking care of your feet:
Washing: Keep your feet clean. When you bathe, wash your feet and in between your toes with warm water and a gentle soap. Dry your feet and in between your toes thoroughly after washing (NHS 2015: pars. 6-7; Lowth 2015b: par. 19).
Socks: As previously stated, it’s important to wear socks made of natural materials that will allow your feet to breath as well as regulate the moisture of your feet. Don’t neglect to change your socks daily if you have been very active or have excessive or extremely sweaty feet (NHS 2015: par. 13; Lowth 2015b: par. 20). If you have such extremely sweaty feet that it negatively affects your daily life and activities, this is called hyperhidrosis, and you should see your podiatrist or another health professional (Lowth 2015b: par. 15). If you have diabetes, it is especially important to wear socks so that your feet have a soft, protective barrier against dirt and wounds.
Lotion: Do apply lotion to your feet, but avoid in between the toes. Excess moisture between the toes can bring on Athlete’s Foot among other ailments (NHS 2015: par. 7; AOFAS 2017: par. 4). Remove hard skin from your feet with pumice, a file or a suitable exfoliant. Beware of cutting or shaving the hard skin away, as you can damage your feet and the skin can grow back harder (NHS 2015: par. 8; AOFAS 2017: par. 4).
Toe nail care: Trim your toe nails straight across; don’t shape them into a curve, as that will cause the nail to grow unevenly and can cause ingrown toe nails (NHS 2015: par. 9; AOFAS 2017: par. 4). After clipping your toe nails, file them straight across with an emery board to get rid of any sharp edges. It’s also best to keep your toe nails from growing too long, or trimming them too short. If your toe nails reach past your toe, they are too long; it’s best to keep the length of your toe nails a few millimetres from the top of your toe (AOFAS 2017: par. 4).
If you cannot reach your feet, or if you suffer from neuropathy, diabetes, or other ailment that causes nerve damage to your feet, seek out a chiropodist, podiatrist or other qualified health professional to trim your nails or remove calluses. Do not attempt to do this yourself (Thompson 2016: par. 4; AOFAS 2017: par. 4). Moreover, check your feet daily to make sure they are healthy and wound-free. If you do have a wound, don’t hesitate—consult your GP immediately.
Shoes: Be sure to wear supportive, comfortable shoes that are the right length and width. Wearing shoes that destroy your feet aren’t worth the pain or the potential surgery bill. Make certain that you have plenty of support for your arches and metatarsals as well, which can be accomplished by adding an insert to your shoes. If you have problems an off-the-shelf insert can’t solve, see a podiatrist who can make an orthotic to suit your specific foot needs.
If you have foot problems or hard-to-fit feet, come and see the ShoeMed team for personal one-on-one consultation and fitting. We have a vast array of shoes, socks and inserts to help you walk in health and comfort. We can also refer you to foot health professionals so you receive the best possible treatment for your foot ailments.
ACFAS (2017) ‘Sesamoid Injuries in the Foot’. Foot Health Facts. Available at: https://www.foothealthfacts.org/conditions/sesamoid-injuries-in-the-foot (Accessed: 6 April 2017).
AOFAS (2017) ‘How to Practice Good Foot Hygiene’. FootCareMD. Available at: http://www.aofas.org/footcaremd/how-to/foot-health/Pages/How-to-Practice-Good-Foot-Hygiene.aspx (Accessed: 6 April 2017).
Curry, A. (2014) ‘Encouraging Damaged Nerves to Regrow’, Diabetes Forecast (April) [Online]. Available at: http://www.diabetesforecast.org/2014/apr/encouraging-damaged-nerves-to.html (Accessed: 6 April 2017).
Lowth, M. (2015a) ‘Ageing Feet’, 23 April. Patient. Available at: https://patient.info/health/ageing-feet (Accessed: 6 April 2017).
Lowth, M. (2015b) ‘Sweaty Feet’, 24 April. Patient. Available at: https://patient.info/health/sweaty-feet (Accessed: 6 April 2017).
NHS (2015) ’10 tips on foot care’. NHS Choices. Available at: http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/foothealth/Pages/Healthyfeet.aspx (Accessed: 6 April 2017).
Speller, J. (2017) ‘Muscles of the Foot’, 12 January. TeachMeAnatomy. Available at: http://teachmeanatomy.info/lower-limb/muscles/foot/ (Accessed: 6 April 2017).
Swierzewski, J. J. (2015) ‘Foot Anatomy: Foot & Ankle Anatomy – Muscles, Tendons, and Ligaments’, 15 September. Remedy’s HealthCommunities.com. Available at: http://www.healthcommunities.com/foot-anatomy/muscles-tendons-ligaments.shtml (Accessed: 6 April 2017).
Tian-Xia, Q., Ee-Chon, T., Ya-Bo, Y., and Wei, L. (2011) ‘Finite element modelling of a 3D coupled foot-boot model’, Medical Engineering & Physics, 33(10), pp. 1228-1233, Elsevier [Online]. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.medengphy.2011.05.012 (Accessed: 6 April 2017).
Thompson, R. P. (2016) ‘Foot Care Essentials: How to Practice Good Foot Hygiene’, 31 March. Institute for Preventative Foot Health (IPFH). Available at: http://www.ipfh.org/foot-care-essentials/how-to-practice-good-foot-hygiene (Accessed: 6 April 2017).