Your feet can tell you a lot about the general condition of your health or warn you of underlying health conditions. From pesky foot pain to more serious symptoms, such as numbness, your feet often show symptoms of disease before any other part of your body.
When feet ache after a long day, you may just curse your shoes. After all, eight out of 10 women admit their shoes hurt. But pain that’s not due to sky-high heels, may come from a stress fracture, a small crack in a bone. Other possible causes are exercise that was too intense, particularly high-impact sports like basketball and distance running. Also, weakened bones, due to osteoporosis, increases the risk of foot pain.
The most common cause of heel pain is plantar fasciitis, inflammation where this long ligament attaches to the heel bone. The pain may be sharpest when you first wake up and put pressure on the foot. Arthritis, excessive exercise, and poorly fitting shoes also can cause heel pain, as can tendonitis. Less common causes include a bone spur on the bottom of the heel, a bone infection, tumor, or fracture.
This is usually a common temporary nuisance caused by standing too long or being on a long flight – especially if you are pregnant. In contrast, feet that stay swollen can be a sign of a serious medical condition such as heart disease. The cause may be poor circulation, a problem with the lymphatic system, or a blood clot. A kidney disorder or underactive thyroid can also cause swelling. If you have persistent swelling of your feet, see a physician.
Loss of hair on feet and legs
Hair on toes is more obvious on men, but women also have fine hair on their toes. If there is an absence of hair on the feet, it could signal peripheral arterial disease (PAD), according to the American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons. PAD is the restriction of blood flow in the arteries of the leg and foot. It may signal more widespread arterial disease such as heart disease. Low blood flow can lead to poor wound healing, gangrene and amputations.
Ulcer on the bottom of the foot that doesn’t heal
If you have a wound on your foot that won’t heal, it could signal a risk of diabetes. Approximately 15 percent of people with diabetes develop an ulcer, or open sore, on the bottom of their foot. Anywhere from 14 to 24 percent of those people will require an amputation due to infection according to the American Podiatric Medical Association. Diabetics with uncontrolled blood sugar levels are at higher risk for ulcers than those who control their diabetes with medications, insulin and diet.
If your toes are always cold, one reason could be poor blood flow – a circulatory problem sometimes linked to smoking, high blood pressure, or heart disease. The nerve damage of uncontrolled diabetes can also make your feet feel cold. Other possible causes include hypothyroidism and anemia (low blood). A doctor can look for any underlying problems, or let you know that you simply have cold feet. In the meantime, you can keep your feet warm in thick wool socks and slippers. Avoid walking bare feet.
Thick, yellow toenails
If one or more of the toenails starts to thicken, change color or separate from the skin or nail bed, this may be a fungal infection. People with autoimmune diseases or other diseases that affect the immune system or take immunosuppressant medications are more at risk for developing fungal infections. Fungal infections are more common in older persons and those with diabetes. Other medications, such as corticosteroids, can also increase your risk of developing a fungal infection.
Enlarged big toe
Swelling to the big toe joint may be a sign of gout or other type of arthritis. The first symptom of gout is often an enlarged and painful big toe. Gout is a type of arthritis caused by a build-up of uric acid, which forms crystals in the coldest part of the body, like the small joints in the toes. Gout is often related to the foods eaten.
Numbness in both feet
Having persistent “pins and needles” feeling in the feet could be a sign of peripheral neuropathy. People with diabetes are at risk of developing diabetic neuropathy – nerve damage that begins in the feet and gradually progresses up the legs and hands. Treating and controlling the underlying conditions, like diabetes, may result in reversing the numbness. It is important to talk with your doctor immediately if you experience numbness in both feet. Neuropathy increases the risk of ulcers, amputations and other complications in persons with diabetes.
Pitted toenails may be a sign of psoriasis or psoriatic arthritis. Other signs of nail psoriasis include discoloration, crumbling, loosening, thickening, or horizontal lines in the nails. Treating the psoriasis can help prevent or control pitting of toenails. Some people also find that having regular manicures and pedicures by professionals familiar with nail psoriasis can help improve the appearance of your nails.
Stiff or sore joints
Sore toe joints may be a sign of a degenerative joint disease. Rheumatoid arthritis typically starts in the small joints of the hands and feet and causes pain during movement and tenderness in the joint. If you have persistent aching or swelling in the joints of your feet or hands, talk to your doctor about seeing a rheumatologist. Taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAIDS) such as ibuprofen or natural inflammatories such as garlic, ginger or tumeric can also help with the pain.
Inability to lift the front part of your foot
The inability to lift the front part of your foot is called foot drop and is caused by paralysis or weakness of the muscles that lift the foot. This condition may signal a number of underlying disorders, such as neurodegenerative disorders, multiple sclerosis, stroke, cerebral palsy, polio, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or other muscle or nerve disorders. Treating the underlying condition may reverse the symptom. Sometimes, the podiatrist may order a brace that goes in the shoes to assist with walking.
Red or blue toes
Toes that turn blue when exposed to cold may signal Raynaud’s disease. This is a disorder of the blood vessels supplying the skin. Certain parts of the body, such as the toes and fingers, become numb and turn blue when exposed to cool temperatures or when you are under stress. People with Raynaud’s disease often take precautions such as always covering their hands and feet when going outdoors in the cool weather.
• For more information email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.foothealth.org, apma.org or orthoinfo.aaos.org. To see a podiatrist, visit Bahamas Foot Centre on Rosetta Street, telephone 325-2996 or Bahamas Surgical Associates on Albury Lane, telephone 394-5820. In Grand Bahama, call or visit Lucayan Medical Centre on East Sunrise Highway, telephone 373-7400 for an appointment.