Ever heard of the expression “the canary in the coal mine?” In the early days of mining, miners actually brought a canary with them to help them determine if they had enough air. The Canaries faint when oxygen levels in the air start to drop, and miners knew they had to head for higher ground when it happened. The saying is meant to symbolize early warning information. In many ways, our feet are the ‘canary’ for our bodies! For medical professionals, your feet can actually act as an early warning sign for many health conditions.
Although our post today will focus specifically on foot ailments and the practitioners who treat them, it is worth listing some common body conditions that may display symptoms in the feet.
Common foot symptoms and what they might indicate:
- Swelling: Possible indication of high blood pressure.
- Chronically cold feet, hair loss (generally on toes) and/or change in toenail and skin colour: Possible blood circulation issue or a thyroid disorder.
- Sores that will not heal, numbness or tingling: Possibly related to an underlying diabetic condition.
- Chronic foot cramps or spasms: Possible dietary deficiency. In rare cases, a brain or a nervous condition.
- Sore toe joints and/or unexplained holes in toenails: Possible indication of arthritis.
If you experience any of the above, you should consult your doctor for a proper diagnosis.
Physical Side of Foot Pain
You may have heard it said before that your feet exert enough pressure over the course of a day to crush a diamond. A runner, for example, can exert 3 to 3.5 times their body weight in pressure every step. For a person weighing in at 150 pounds, this means roughly 500 pounds of pressure endured by each foot for each step! Even regular walking exerts your full body weight on each foot for each step. Fortunately, our bodies, and more specifically our feet, are built to withstand such constant pressure.
That doesn’t mean that feet can withstand the constant pressures of everyday life forever. As we age our bodies heal more slowly, and become less elastic and able to compensate for small injuries or awkward movements. Repetitive movements that cause inflammation in your foot will generally, left uncorrected, result in foot pain. Without discovering the reason for the pain, and thus the inflammation, such conditions may become chronic and even cause lasting damage.
Here is a list of common foot ailments that we typically see in our clinic, as well as their possible cause:
- Flaky and itchy skin: Possible indication of athlete’s foot.
- Fluid-filled bumps: Typically these are blisters, caused by repetitive friction between toes or between your foot and footwear.
- Hard, leathery skin: Between the toes or on top of the foot, this is referred to as a corn. Anywhere else, it is considered a callus. Like a blister, these are caused by repetitive friction or pressure.
- Abnormal growth on the bottom of the big toe: This is typically called a bunion, and has a list of causes. Bunions are often painful and tender and usually require surgical intervention.
- Bent toe: Called a hammertoe, these can be caused by tight footwear or abnormal walking. Pain/tingling between toes or on the ball of foot: Called a neuroma, this pain or tingling sensation is caused by a pinched nerve.
- Unexplained toenail damage/ discoloured nails: Typically a toenail fungus that damages your toenail by eating away at the proteins that support it.
- Unexplained bumps, anywhere on foot: Usually a wart, but rarely a more serious condition such as skin/foot cancer. It is thus highly recommended to get these checked out by your doctor or a podiatrist.
- Heel pain (especially first thing in the morning): Heel pain is a common indicator of plantar fasciitis. There are many causes. This condition can be painful, and medical attention is highly recommended.
- Painful arch or on bottom of foot: Improper arch support can cause a buildup of material resulting in a growth on the heel bone. Known as a heel spur, this can result in great pain while walking.
All conditions listed above merit a professional diagnosis.
Treating Foot Problems
Fortunately, there is a veritable arsenal of foot specialists who can diagnose and treat almost any foot ailment. These include:
- Chiropodist: A chiropodist is a specialist trained in diagnosing, treating, and preventing foot disorders and diseases. Chiropodists receive an additional 3 years of post-graduate training to obtain their designation. As a dentist is to your mouth and teeth, a chiropodist is to your foot and ankle.
- Podiatrist: A podiatrist has a similar skillset to the chiropodist, only a podiatrist is additionally trained in foot surgery. Put simply, the chiropodist is the doctor of feet, while the podiatrist is the surgeon.
- Orthotists: Through specialized foot and lower limb diagnostics, the orthotist determines the optimal use of artificial supports to both alleviate symptoms and treat the source of the foot and/or lower limb issue.
- Pedorthist: A pedorthist specializes in developing foot orthotics solutions. While the orthoptist diagnosis the issue, the pedorthist plans the solution. Think of the pedorthist as the architect of foot orthotics.
- Foot care nurse: A foot care nurse specializes in basic foot care. The nurse can perform basic foot diagnostics and offers services such as skin and nail care.
Depending on a client’s issue, some or all of the above foot specialists may become involved. It is thus optimal to include all of these services under a single practice. At Livewell, we’re proud to offer all of the services you need for a proper foot problem diagnosis and treatment plan. Whether a general foot diagnosis, or custom orthotics solutions, we invite you to contact our clinic or directly book online to start on your path back to optimal foot health.
See you again next month!