Podiatry facts

Updated: Feb 20, 2021

There’s more to looking after your feet than wearing shoes and cutting your toenails. Foot conditions and injuries are common, and many health conditions affecting other parts of your body can also impact your feet.

Types of foot problems

Common foot injuries

Ligament sprains (for example, ankle sprain) happen when joint ligaments stretch and tear causing pain and swelling, and limit walking. Mild sprains heal with rest, ice and elevation (keeping them off the ground). Severe sprains need medical attention.

Broken bones in the feet can be caused by trauma from a fall or sports injury.

Common foot conditions

  • heel pain (for example, plantar fasciitis) caused by poor shoes, flat feet or walking on hard surfaces

  • bunions that push your toes and feet out of shape, causing skin damage and pain while walking and wearing shoes

  • warts on the sole, heel or toes, with a white area of skin with tiny black dots in the centre

  • tinea (also known as athlete's foot), an infection of the skin characterised by a red, itchy rash

  • corns and calluses due to pressure from footwear or walking, often found on the tops of the toes, balls of the feet and heels

  • ingrown toenails on any toe, but most commonly the big toe

There are many other skin conditions and toenail problems (including fungal or thickened toenails) that need regular foot care and advice from a health professional (see ‘Foot care specialists’, below).

Illnesses that can affect the feet

Some illnesses that affect the whole body can cause particular changes in your feet.

Diabetes can damage the nerves in your feet, reduce blood flow and increase the risk of infection. In extreme cases, this might lead to foot ulcers, and possibly amputation if the ulcers and infection don’t heal.

Poor blood flow to the feet can cause skin changes, coldness, brittle toenails and pain when walking or resting. Circulation problems in the legs and feet might also indicate heart disease and stroke.

Arthritis, including osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and gout, can damage the joints of the feet, causing deformity and pain in affected areas.

How ageing affects the feet

As you get older, the fatty cushioning under the heels and balls of your feet gets thinner, and your skin loses its elasticity and strength. Toenails become thicker and tougher, making them harder to cut.

Bone or joints deformities, like bunions or arthritis, can lead to foot health issues like pain, corns and calluses, and they might increase your risk of falls.

Foot care specialists

Podiatrists are university-trained health professionals who treat medical conditions of the feet and lower legs. They work in private clinics, community health services or public hospitals.

Other health professionals, like orthopaedic surgeons, can help with problems of the muscles and bones of your feet and ankles. You may need a referral from your GP to see these specialists.

Caring for your feet

A good daily foot health routine includes:

  • washing and drying your feet especially between your toes

  • checking for redness, swelling, cuts, pus, splinters or blisters

  • moisturising skin

Cut toenails straight across, filing sharp edges. Avoid over-the-counter corn cures and tight socks or stockings.

If you notice any change or problem, seek help. If you can’t see clearly, ask a family member or carer to check your feet for you.

Make sure your shoes fit and suit the activity you are doing. Shoes should be the right length (1.5cm longer than your longest toe), width and depth.

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