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5 signs you should see a podiatrist

5 signs you should see a podiatrist

As long as they do their job and get us from A to B, many of us tend to ignore our feet and don’t give them much thought. But do this at your peril – feet need attention if we don’t want them to let us down.

5 signs you should see a podiatrist

Do you know the signs you should see a podiatrist? From foot problems and diabetes to gout symptoms, understand the signs and learn how to care for your feet.

The foot is a complex structure of 28 different bones, 214 ligaments and 38 muscles, bearing our body weight as we walk every day, allowing us to stand upright and perform the complex movements needed for motion and balance.

The average person will take between 5,000 and 7,000 steps a day, and over 200 million in a lifetime.

But how much care do you give your feet?

We often only notice them when they’re impaired – but their health should be a high priority.

According to the Australian Podiatry Association, 89 per cent of Australians have suffered from foot pain or another foot-related lower limb ailment during their life, yet 78 per cent admit they don’t prioritise their feet when it comes to caring for their physical wellbeing.

Two out of five Australians admit they suffer from foot pain all and/or some of the time, and 63 per cent of Australians also admit to having never sought advice regarding their foot health.

A checkup with a trained professional once or twice a year can ensure your feet are working at their best.

Just as you’d visit your dentist for a toothache, a podiatrist can help when something is wrong with your feet/lower limbs. Podiatrists also help improve the performance of athletes and maintain general foot health.

Ricky Lee’s parents are both podiatrists, so it was a clear path for him to follow in their footsteps.

Partnering with his father as a director of The Walking Clinic in Canberra and as director of the Australian Podiatry Association (NSW/ACT) Lee explains, “As podiatrists, we manage and treat all concerns of the lower limb – from assessing children as they start walking and developing, through to sports people with knee or foot injuries or concerns, to diabetic foot management and general foot care such as ingrown toenails, corns and calluses.”

Pain is a central reason people visit a podiatrist. “Pain in the feet is a common complaint,” says Lee, “as are ingrown or discoloured nails, corns, skin rashes, foot odour, foot injuries, as well as broader health problems such as diabetes or arthritis.”

“It is a common misconception that painful feet are a normal side effect from everyday activities. If you feel relief when you remove your shoes at the end of the day, get professional advice.”

Peak performance

Podiatrists not only help when there’s a problem, they can also help enhance performance.

“Podiatrists often work with their patients (and other medical or allied medical professionals) to help facilitate their exercise programme, taking into account any current or past injuries, underlying medical conditions, or biomechanics [the study of the body’s structure, function and motion], to help patients achieve their desired goals,” says Caron Orelowitz, a podiatrist who specialises in sports and exercise medicine.

“This can be achieved through stretching exercises, addressing abnormal biomechanics, footwear advice, injury prevention strategies and management – and, if need be, referrals to other health practitioners.”

As participation in sporting activities has increased over the years so, too, have injuries, reflects Orelowitz.

“For an athlete to perform at their best, the ability … to move the joints of their body through their full range of motion is of utmost importance.”

On her 35th birthday, Sarah set herself a goal of completing the local 10km fun run. She started training in her old runners, but three weeks into her routine she felt mild discomfort in her right heel.

In one training session she felt a sharp pain in her heel which stopped her in her tracks, so she booked an appointment with Lee.

A diagnosis of plantar fasciitis (an inflammation of the thick band of tissue that connects the heel bone to the toes) was made and a treatment plan was formulated.

Her training schedule was altered, she was given a prescription for new footwear with the correct support and structure for her feet, her foot was strapped to reduce the load on the structures of the foot and she was given a rehab/strength programme.

Within a week her symptoms had greatly improved and over the coming weeks, she was able to undertake the new running programme without pain, so she could reach her goal
to complete the fun run.

Foot problems and diabetes

As the number of people diagnosed with diabetes climbs, so too does the number of cases of diabetic neuropathy.

Diabetes can cause damage to the nerves in the feet, causing diabetic neuropathy – a condition that causes tingling and pain, and can make you lose feeling in your feet.

When it comes to these kinds of foot problems and diabetes, it’s common for people with diabetic neuropathy to experience falls due to weakness and loss of sensation.

It’s important for people who suffer from diabetes to understand the signs you should see a podiatrist.

“Podiatrists can assist patients by assessing for possible biomechanical problems. Treatment can consist of foot orthoses, footwear advice, stretching, strengthening and proprioception exercises, and gait retraining,” Orelowitz says.

Gout

Gout is a painful condition caused by excess uric acid in the bloodstream. This leads to the formation of crystals that settle in the joints.

What are the common gout symptoms? The disease most classically affects the joint in the base of the big toe, says Orelowitz.

While your GP can provide you with preventive medication, your podiatrist can help equip you with management strategies to reduce the risk of a gout attack, and manage a gout attack if it presents.

“This can include wearing warm socks, keeping your feet warm, exercise, being mindful of stress and obesity, and helping you manage diabetes. They can also recommend the best footwear for your foot type and prescribe custom orthotics to help you feel more comfortable on your feet,” says Orelowitz.

Daily care for your feet

Given how much we rely on our feet, keeping them healthy should be part of your daily routine. Lee recommends the following simple techniques to maintain the health of your feet:

Keep your feet clean and moisturised

Take care of your feet by cleaning and moisturising them every day.

Keeping your feet hydrated is about establishing a routine rather than having the most expensive cream sitting on the shelf, not being used.

When you moisturise your feet, monitor them for changes – including dry skin, discolouration, brittle nails, burning and tingling sensations, or feelings of cold and numbness, which are all signs of an underlying concern.

Maintain healthy nails

Fungal nail infections are very common. This is when the nail becomes discoloured, thickened and brittle.

To help avoid fungal nail infections, frequently wash and dry your feet, avoid going barefoot in public showers or pool areas, don’t wear the same pair of socks two days in a row, hang your socks inside out in the sun (UV light is a natural fungus killer), don’t share your footwear with other people, air your shoes regularly in the sun, and try not to wear the same pair of shoes each day.

Tea tree oil is also a great natural way to help reduce fungal infections. Add a drop of tea tree oil to your moisturiser, or add a few drops to the water when you wash your feet. Making up a diluted spray and spraying your feet can help reduce the risk of fungal infection.

Wear correctly fitting shoes

To avoid pain, bruised toenails, corns, calluses, blisters, bunions and injuries, buy shoes that fit properly and are comfortable.

People commonly wear shoes that are too small. There should be about 1.5cm of space between your longest toe (which may not be your big toe) and the end of the shoe.

Limit time spent in high heels

Minimise time standing and walking in high heels as they can lead to longer term foot concerns (like bunions) if worn excessively.

And Lee’s final tip?

“Don’t underestimate comfort,” he says. “There is evidence to say that shoe comfort can help reduce injury risk, so get the shoe that is most comfortable, not just your favourite colour.”

5 signs you should see a podiatrist

1. Foot or lower limb pain

One of the most common serious foot conditions is plantar fasciitis, which is noticeable through a deep ache or shooting pain in the heel.

Metatarsalgia is another fairly common condition where the ball of the foot becomes so painful it can be unbearable to stand or walk.

If the heel or ball of your foot continues to hurt when you first step out of bed in the morning, see your podiatrist.

If you have foot pain or symptoms for longer than three months, the injury can become chronic, which can make it harder to resolve and delay recovery.

2. Tired legs

Sore legs is another one of the signs you should see a podiatrist.

There can be many different reasons for tired legs, from muscle fatigue due to muscle imbalance, through to reduced blood flow or blood pooling in the legs.

3. A change in the skin or colour of your lower limbs or toenails

If your feet peel, bleed, crack or swell; if veins become more visible; or if your toenails turn yellow/brownish, book an appointment with a podiatrist.

If you are diabetic and your foot looks redder, swells, or your skin starts to break down producing ulcers or a crack in your heels, seek urgent care.

4. When you fall pregnant, after you have your baby, or if you put on or lose a lot of weight

The amount of weight a person carries impacts the pressure on their feet – and through pregnancy your weight increases quickly.

Your body also releases a hormone called relaxin, which increases the flexibility and elasticity of your ligaments and joints.

This can increase your foot size and your injury risk post pregnancy. Seeing a podiatrist during this time means you’ll get the correct diagnosis and treatment plan to reduce the impact on your feet, ankles and knees.

5. Loss of sensation in your feet, or a change in how your feet feel

If you notice you’re losing feeling or movement in your foot, toes or lower limbs, see your podiatrist immediately. It could be a sign of a progressive condition that requires further investigation.

READ MORE: How to care for your feet.

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