Spring has officially sprung and if you’re already imagining being barefoot on the beach or showing off your pedicure at the racing carnival, then now is a great time to check-in and prep your feet.
Whilst you may think that they are well taken care of in your winter boots, the cold weather has a significant impact on your feet. The cold and damp conditions combined with dry indoor heat can be a harsh combination. It’s easy to forget to take care of the feet during the winter months and they often suffer problems later on.
As the weather gets warmer, get ready to put your best foot forward!
If you’re concerned about how your feet look or feel and are thinking about nail and skin care now that winter is over, we’ve got some pointers to help you.
Common nail issues and what to do:
Ingrown toenails are the biggest complaint that a podiatrist will often see at this time of year. An ingrown nail is where the nail becomes lodged in the skin instead of growing normally, causing pain and sometimes leading to infection. Poor fitting and tight shoes are the culprit as they push against the flesh of your feet and squeeze the skin of the toes.
Another cause of ingrown toenails is the way people cut their toenails, causing the nail to grow into the skin. The proper technique for cutting toenails and avoiding ingrown nails is to cut straight across using a straight-edged toenail clipper to trim nails to the end of each toe and to file the edges. This ensures that the nails don’t become curved or leave spikes in the corners:
- Use appropriate sized toenail clippers. These may be different to your finger nail clippers. Disinfect them after you’ve used them too
- Don’t cut nails too short and avoid cutting down the sides
- Cut nails when they’re dry, not wet for a smoother cut and to avoid a tear
- Make a few small cuts all the way across the nail rather than trying to cut the whole length in one go
- Try filing after cutting to smooth any rough edges
- Don’t cut cuticles, instead use a proper cuticle stick.
If your Podiatrist confirms that you have an ingrown toenail then they will treat it by re-shaping the nail and moving it away from the skin so that it can heal. This reduces the irritation and allows the condition to settle and get back to normal. The redness will reduce and it will start to feel less sensitive and irritated.
One of the main issues Podiatrists often see is patients leaving it too long to seek professional help which leads to infection and swollen toes. Many people also try at-home treatments for long periods which are ineffective at treating the issue. Some patients report achieving good relief by soaking their feet in warm salt water, changing the footwear that might have caused the issue and dressing the toe with an antiseptic such as Betadine.
Prevention is better than cure and getting the right advice on what to do and receiving the right care early helps to avoid surgery.
If your condition becomes chronic and is not resolving with conservative care then your Podiatrist can offer surgery in the clinic under local anaesthetic. The Podiatrist will take away a section of the nail that’s causing the problem and kill the nail bed permanently. You can begin wearing normal shoes again in about three days and then in around 3 – 4 weeks your foot will be fully recovered.
Fungal nail infections are also a common problem and because a fungal infection sits deep within the nail it’s hard for the active ingredient in over-the-counter remedies to penetrate through and be effective. Depending on how advanced the infection is there are three main treatment options to make the nail healthy again, which your Podiatrist might discuss with you during your assessment:
- A topical nail paint
- Laser or light therapy
- A three month course of antifungal tablets.
Fungal nail infections can be picked up in any places where there is water or you’re having treatments on your feet – including nail salons (if they fail to sterile equipment properly), swimming pools, spas, the showers at the gym; or if you borrow someone else’s shoes or socks who already has an infection. Try to prevent exposing yourself to places where you might pick up an infection, as fungal nail infections can be very hard to treat. The longer you leave it to seek treatment and the further the infection tracks down the nail the harder it becomes to resolve the issue and the nail can continue to get re-infected.
Discolouration of nails is a common compliant when it comes to wanting to get your feet into your favourite pair of thongs after the winter. It’s primarily caused by leaving nail polish on for too long. This condition is easily resolved by filing the nail down, addressing the nail dryness and tidying up the nail. The nails will look normal again straight away.
To avoid this happening in the first place, nail varnish should be taken off regularly and not worn for long periods. Avoid back to back nail polish applications for weeks or months at a time. It’s an artificial substance and so will cause problems for the nail if worn long term as they need to have a chance to naturally grow and breathe.
Nails damaged through trauma and/or poorly fitting shoes causes the nails to respond by thickening to protect the nail bed and toe. This can happen if you drop something on your toe, stub your toe or foot or kick things.
Poorly fitting footwear can also cause microtrauma on the nails with every step you take. Your feet can become uncomfortable, painful and the thickened nails become hard to cut and look unsightly.
This can be treated by your Podiatrist who will thin the nail out and reduce the pressure; so over time you will see small improvements. The aim is to make sure the nail grows out properly and is no longer problematic. You can assist with this at home by filing the nail down regularly to look after it.
Common skin issues affecting the feet
Podiatrists treat many skin complaints. Poorly fitting and tight shoes, that rub against the skin on your feet can cause corns and calluses on the foot. Thick socks that don’t breathe cause your foot to sweat create a breeding ground for bacteria and fungus. Here are some common skin issues affecting the feet and how you can expect a specialist to help.
Calluses are generalised areas of hard skin on the feet, usually on the balls of feet or little toes and are caused by too much pressure on your feet. This could be due to poorly fitting and tight shoes that consistently rub the feet, insufficient cushioning and padding in the shoe or simply just the way a person walks. The skin thinks it’s under attack and so thickens up to protect the area and this causes pain. If the pressure is not relieved then this skin continues to build up.
The aim is to make patients more comfortable and so the first thing a Podiatrist will do to treat this condition is to take the thickened skin off. Then, depending on the severity, they will discuss ideas to reduce the pressure such as orthotics, insoles and padding in the shoes.
The treatment time varies depending on may variables such as whether the pressure was caused by the way a person walks or by a certain pair of shoes being worn. By consistently reducing this pressure, the condition can settle down quickly.
You can use a foot file or pumice stone at home to gently remove thickened, dead skin build-up and make it more comfortable.
Corns are cone shaped bits of hard skin and are painful. They have a centre of pressure in the middle and a Podiatrist is required to remove this properly. It cannot be done at home.
It’s common to try and treat corns at home for a few weeks first, using corn pads. This can have a detrimental effect as it softens the skin too much and can cause more damage whilst not actually removing the corn itself.
Warts present all year round. They have a cauliflower appearance and are caused by a virus. As hard skin builds up over the top, they become painful. If over the counter treatments haven’t worked and the body hasn’t been able to suppress the virus then you may need to see a Podiatrist who will treat it by applying a chemical. This causes a blister in the area. The body reacts by growing new skin which pushes out the infected tissue.
Preparing for Spring
Take some time to inspect last spring and summer’s footwear. If you haven’t worn certain shoes in a few months and they don’t feel as comfortable any more or appear worn, then it might be time to throw them away and buy some new shoes.
If you are starting a new exercise regime, make sure you gradually ease back into activity and let your body get used to exercise again and the associated pressures and traumas that the body will go through. Check to make sure that your training shoes still fit well, are good quality and up to date, to avoid injury. Good footwear will allow your feet to function and ensure you have the right foundations from the feet enabling you to perform.
See your local specialist
Pain is the biggest thing that causes people to seek advice and treatment. If a foot problem has developed, speak to one of nearly 5,000 specialist Podiatrists in Australia to get diagnosed and treated properly; and make sure you are Racing Carnival ready. And don’t forget to pack an extra pair of comfy shoes to change into later in the day!
We’d love to help you with any more questions you may have. Please give us a call or send us an email and we’ll arrange for one of our Podiatrists to have a free 10 minute chat to answer any questions you have or alternatively book online HERE.