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Common foot conditions

Many common ailments of the foot are due to skin conditions, such as athlete's foot, warts, calluses and corns, or specialized structures of the skin, such as nails and sweat glands. Other common ailments are due to the joint or ligament wear and tear, such as bunions, arthritis, fallen arches, certain types of flatfoot, or inflammation.

Via Christi podiatrists can provide care and treatment for these common conditions, as well as more severe conditions. About 90 percent of people with common conditions will respond to conservative treatments.

Changing footwear is often an important step in seeking relief from these common foot ailments. Decreased activity or rest is a common treatment for overuse injuries.

Achilles tendinitis. A common cause of foot or ankle pain is inflammation of the Achilles tendon, the longest, strongest tendon (a tough, fibrous tissue) in the body that connects calf muscles to the heel bone. This type of injury tends to happen as a result of overuse, among, for example, runners or walkers or the weekend type of athlete. Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication, ice and rest are the most common prescription for treatment. More persistent or severe cases may require physical therapy, orthotic devices or surgery.

Athlete's foot. Our feet spend a lot of time in shoes and socks, providing the perfect warm, dark, humid place for fungus and bacteria to grow. Fungal and bacterial conditions — which generally cause  dry skin, redness, itching, and even blisters and peeling — need to be treated right away. They can be hard to get rid of and can reoccur. To help prevent such conditions, keep your feet— and in particular the area between toes — clean and dry. Change your shoes and socks often, particularly if you are prone to sweaty feet.

Bunions. A bunion — the bony bump that forms at the base of one's big toe — occurs when the joint in your big toe no longer fits together the way it's supposed to. The joint is pushed to the outside of your foot, creating the bony bump. Bunions can run in the family, but they also can form when your big toe is squeezed against your other toes in ill-fitting shoes. Sometimes a smaller version of a bunion can form on the little toe (called a bunionette or tailor's bunion) . Treatment can range from conservative (wearing pads to cushion the bunion) to pharmaceutical (taking anti-inflammatory drugs) to surgical (repairing the joint).

Corns and calluses. When the bony parts of your foot rub against your shoe, your skin will harden in those areas, causing unsightly corns and calluses. Again, a better-fitting pair of shoes can help alleviate the friction. Over-the-counter treatments for corns tend to contain an acid, which will irritate the skin, so it's best to consult with a physician before trying such a treatment. Persons with diabetes or poor circulation are more at risk of developing complications from corns and calluses, so visit with your podiatrist or physician if you have those conditions.

Flat feet. At birth, the normal foot is flat. By about age 2 or 3, the tissues on the inside edge of the foot will have tightened and formed an arch. Sometimes this doesn't occur, resulting in flat feet. Flat feet can also happen because of age or injury. Most of the time, flat feet is a fairly painless condition, but sometimes the condition can lead to ankle and knee problems because of alignment. Flat-footed people may have tired, achy feet after long periods of standing, playing sports or other physical activities.  For persistent pain, visit with a podiatrist about arch-support devices (over-the-counter or custom-made), stretches, special shoes or other forms of treatment.

Hammer toe. In this condition, ligaments and tendons of the toe tighten up, causing the joint of the toe to push upward. Any toe, except the big toe, can become a hammer toe. The condition is caused by muscle imbalance or arthritis. Treatments include finding a shoe with a high toe box to accommodate the hammer toe and foot products designed to push down the raised joint.

Plantar fasciitis. Inflammation of the plantar fascia — the broad, fibrous tissue that runs along the  sole from the heel to the front of the foot — causes a painful condition in the heel or arch known as plantar fasciitis. A number of things, from flat feet to an increase in weight or activity to certain working conditions where one is on their feet, can cause plantar fasciitis.  Because of the variety of causes, it's best to seek medical care on the best ways to treat this ailment. Treatment and relief can range from frequent stretches to specially made footcare products.

Plantar warts. Plantar warts are growths found on the bottom of the feet — usually on the pressure points. Signs of a wart are a grainy-looking lesion, a callus over what appears to be a spot, and tiny black dots (which are small, clotted vessels). Plantar warts can be painful and tender when walking or standing. Generally most warts will clear up without treatment. Seek treatment if plantar warts become painful, spread or if you have diabetes or a suppressed immune system. Treatment can take some time, since plantar warts are persistent. Forms of treatment can include over-the-counter treatments, topical creams, freezing and minor surgery.

Sprained ankle. Sprained ankles are a fairly common injury affecting 25,000 people from children to adults daily, according to orthopedic experts. A sprained ankle happens when the ligaments surrounding the ankle joint are over- or abnormally stretched as a result of your foot twisting, rolling or moving beyond its normal range of motion. In severe sprains, the ligaments can tear, and you may even suffer a bone break in your foot or ankle. Treatment depends on the severity of the sprain, and can range from icing and rest to splints to surgery. Seek medical attention immediately if  there is severe pain, color changes, numbness or the inability to move the ankle. You should also see a doctor if there is pain, swelling, bruising, an inability to walk or if the injury persists for more than a week.  Depending on the severity, diagnostic services will vary,  from a doctor manipulating your ankle to an X-ray to an MRI.  

Stress fractures. If you're overusing or repeatedly striking your foot on the ground through activities such as running, dance, basketball or other sports, you may be at risk for a stress fracture. Persons with osteoporosis, or weakened bones, are also at risk. A small crack in the bones of your foot will form when overtired muscles, which usually act as your shock absorbers, transfer the impact stress to your bones. Generally, the best medicine for such an injury is to rest from the activity, apply ice and elevate the foot. Additional treatment can include anti-inflammatory medication, a walking boot or brace, and even surgery if the fracture is not healing properly.

Toenail care. Ingrown toenails and thickening nails are two common foot conditions. Common in big toes, an ingrown toenail is caused when the edge of the nail breaks through the skin, causing swelling, redness and sometimes infection. Soaking the foot in warm water and then applying an antiseptic solution and bandaging the toe can provide relief. If there is swelling, pain or other signs of infection, seek medical care. A podiatrist can trim or remove the infected nail.

One of the best ways to prevent an ingrown toenail is proper grooming of the toenails. Cut the toenail straight across when clipping. Don't cut the nail too short or downward at the corner.

While nails tend to thicken and harden as we grow older, fungus can be another cause for thickening nails. Toenail fungus can happen at any age. Treatment for thickening nails will depend upon the cause so visit with a podiatrist for tips on how to groom and care for your feet.