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Get those feet fit for summer

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Feet are complex highly tuned instruments.

Durban - Summertime means wearing less and baring more and that includes our feet. Before you flaunt your cool new footwear take time to check the health of these crucial body parts that many of us tend to overlook.

“The human foot is a biological masterpiece,” says Durban podiatrist Janine Smith.

“It’s strong, flexible and functional design enables it to do its job well and without complaint – if you take care of it and do not take it for granted.”

Feet are complex highly tuned instruments. Within its relatively small size, each foot contains 26-28 bones (the two feet contain a quarter of all the bones in the body), 33 joints, a network of more than 100 tendons, muscles, ligaments, and an intricate system of blood vessels and nerves.

Studies show that 75 percent of people experience foot ailments at some point in their life, but many do not seek medical attention until the problem becomes more severe.

“The average person takes about 8 000 to 10 000 steps a day. Add this up over the course of a lifetime and it is equivalent to walking four times around the world,” Smith says.

“With this kind of mileage our feet take a pounding, often enduring more than the body weight with each step. If you notice a few lumps and sensations in your feet that were not there before, get them checked out.”

To maintain healthy feet choose wisely when it comes to summer foot fashion.

“Opt for sandals that have a strap around the ankle or are sling-backs so that the feet do not slide about in the shoes. This can cause calluses or blisters,” says Smith.

“Choose well-cushioned shoes to help absorb excess pressure from normal walking and standing. Do not wear the same pair of shoes two days in a row as this causes an accumulation of sweat that creates the perfect environment for fungi to grow.”

Take steps to ensure that your feet are in good hands. Visit the Podiatry Association of South Africa website at www.podiatrist.co.za

Changes that one needs to look out for:

Corns and calluses: A callus is a thick layer of hard skin that grows on the surface of the foot – for example, under the ball of the foot or on top of the toes – in response to pressure or friction. A corn is also hard skin; however, it grows into the skin like a pip. To reduce the thickness of these areas, use a sandpaper foot file before bathing; follow by applying a urea-containing foot cream – except between the toes – at night to keep the skin moisturised. Never apply “corn plasters” as these contain acid that can cause serious tissue irritation if not used properly.

Ingrown toenails: Many things, including wearing tight shoes, incorrect cutting technique and nail fungus, cause ingrown toenails. The pain associated with this condition ranges from a mild twinge to a very painful throb (which suggests infection). Do not cut down the sides of your toenails; wear shoes that do not press against the sides of the toes; and treat fungal nail infections. If the toe is infected, clean it with salt water, apply an antiseptic ointment, cover with gauze and plaster, and make an appointment to see a podiatrist immediately.

Athlete’s foot and nail fungus: Athlete’s foot commonly presents between the toes and is associated with flaky red and very itchy skin. Nail fungus is recognised by discolouration of the nail (white, yellow, brown, black), thickening, as well as accumulation of crumbly debris under the nail. Both of these conditions are fungal infections that thrive during the winter months when the feet are closed up in shoes. Wipe out the insides of your shoes with a solution of 50 percent bleach to 50 percent water or alternatively open your shoes up and place them in direct sunlight so that the UV rays can kill the fungus. Always dry well between your toes.

Plantar warts (verrucas): Plantar warts are often confused with corns; however, warts are distinguished from corns by the presence of tiny black dots in the wart. Warts are highly contagious viral infections that love oxygen and water. If you suspect a wart, limit time spent in water – bathing or swimming – and always keep it covered with a small piece of plastic held in place with a plaster. Over-the-counter remedies are available for treating warts, but it is advised to see a podiatrist first to confirm the diagnosis. - The Mercury

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