Ask The Doc - Foot Ailments

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Question: What are some common foot ailments and their treatment options?

By Dr. Eoin Gorman, DPM, Podiatry, Columbia St. Mary’s Hospital Ozaukee

People use their feet for just about everything they do during the day – but their care is often overlooked. Until something goes wrong, that is. Foot ailments, whether its bunions, hammer toes or a fungal infection, can be debilitating. Luckily, the most common foot issues are treatable, if caught early. With summer right around the corner – and with April being National Foot Health Awareness Month – it’s the perfect time to make sure your feet are in tip-top shape.

Despite its name, anyone can get athlete’s foot, which is a fungal infection caused by the dark and humid environment of shoes and socks. While not serious, symptoms – such as itching, burning and inflammation – can be very uncomfortable. There are many over-the-counter medicines that work. However, if the infection doesn’t respond to a topical treatment and a proper foot hygiene regimen within a week or two, you should consult a physician. The most important thing to do is keep your feet dry. This means thoroughly drying your feet (especially between your toes) after bathing and using an over-the-counter foot powder. If your feet still sweat excessively throughout the day, you should look into absorbent socks and shoes with extra ventilation.

Another common foot fungus attacks the nails. Nail fungus affects roughly 8 percent of all adults and in addition to being unattractive, it can also be painful. Unlike athlete’s foot, nail fungus can be difficult to get rid of. There are many over-the-counter treatments, but if those aren’t effective a doctor can prescribe an oral or topical antifungal medication. If the infection doesn’t respond to those options, you may have to turn to a more involved course of treatment, such as removal of the infected nail – it will grow back.

There are many different kinds of warts, which can range from unsightly but ultimately benign to quite painful. When it comes to the feet, we’re talking about plantar warts, which are caused by a virus that enters the body through a small cut or abrasion. While most warts will simply go away on their own, for persistent warts there are several easy steps you can take to get rid of them (and avoid future occurrences). There are many topical treatments for warts, but especially stubborn ones often require professional treatment. An important thing in preventing the occurrence of warts is to keep your feet clean. It’s also important to avoid walking barefoot on possibly contaminated surfaces, such as public shower stalls or locker room floors.

A bunion is not just a bony growth at the base of the big toe – it’s actually a deviation of the first metatarsal bone that leads to mal-alignment of the great toe joint. They are most often caused by an inherited faulty mechanical structure of the foot. Since they form on a major pressure point of the foot, they can be extremely painful. Swelling and redness are other telltale signs. To treat a bunion, you should start with an over-the-counter pain reliever, something to reduce the inflammation and make sure your shoes fit properly. An ice pack or heating pad can also help with the pain. Padding the area can help and orthotics may help to delay the progression of bunions. Unfortunately, there is no way to truly correct a bunion without surgery. If you’re considering bunion surgery, see a surgeon who specializes in foot and ankle surgery.

Hammer Toes
Also referred to as claw or mallet toes, hammer toes are a bending or curvature within the toe. Symptoms often include pain, redness and swelling. Improperly fitting shoes are a common cause of irritation with hammer toes, so making sure your shoes are the proper size and offer adequate room should be the first step you take. You can also use specially designed orthotic supports to help maintain proper alignment while various toe exercises can help promote flexibility. Protective padding and/or splinting can also help reduce pain. If these treatment options (coupled with a nonprescription pain medication) don’t alleviate the symptoms, surgery might be necessary to relieve the discomfort and deformity.

Heel Pain
Heel pain is most often caused by plantar fasciitis, a condition sometimes also called heel spur syndrome. There are several other potential causes of heel pain, so it is important to have this properly diagnosed. The most common cause of plantar fasciitis relates to faulty structure of the foot. People who have problems with their arches, wear non-supportive footwear, stand for long periods of time or are overweight are at the greatest risk for this problem. Following diagnosis, treatment often begins with stretching exercises for the calf, avoiding going barefoot, applying ice, decreasing activities and use of an oral anti-inflammatory medication such as ibuprofen or naproxen. If the symptoms persist after several weeks, it should be examined by a physician.

Eoin Gorman is a podiatrist at Columbia St. Mary’s Hospital Ozaukee. For more information, please call 262-376-1934.

This article appeared in the Thursday, April 14, issue of The Ozaukee News Graphic.


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