By Stacey Colino
Whether you’re vacationing at the beach or relaxing by the pool, bare feet are almost an inevitable part of summer. Here’s some expert advice for dealing with five common foot problems so you can enjoy sandal season.
- The fault: A bunion is a bony protrusion at the base of the big toe that can become painful, red and swollen.
- The fix: Apply ice and wear special bunion pads (available at drugstores). Custom shoe inserts called orthotics ($200 or more a pair) can help prevent worsening of the bunion, says Rock Positano, D.P.M., director of the non-surgical foot and ankle service at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City. Drugstore shoe inserts, such as Dr. Scholl’s Custom Fit Orthotics ($50), are considerably less expensive and may also provide relief. If these measures don’t help, you may be a candidate for joint injections. A last option is corrective surgery.
- The fault: A hard corn is a red or thickened plug of skin on the tops of the knuckles of the toes; a soft one develops between the toes. Corns can become inflamed, painful and even infected with repeated friction.
- The fix: Cover the area with a corn pad (available at drugstores). Use a pumice stone to shave down a corn, says Carol Frey, M.D., a foot and ankle specialist in Manhattan Beach, CA, and assistant clinical professor of orthopedic surgery at the University of California, Los Angeles. But “avoid chemicals that burn off corns or ‘bathroom surgery'” in which you try to cut them off yourself, she says. If the corn continues to bother you, have it removed by a doctor.
- The fault: Hammertoes are chronically bent at the first knuckle. The condition can be very painful, and the toes can develop blisters, corns and calluses on the tops of the knuckles.
- The fix: Wearing shoes with a deep toe box and a hammertoe pad can decrease pressure on the protruding bone. Wearing orthotics can prevent worsening of the deformed toe. If you’re in serious pain, toe-straightening surgery may be an option.
- The fault: A fungal infection (aka athlete’s foot) can cause a red, itchy, scaly rash between the toes or on the soles. Nail fungus causes a patchy white or yellowish discoloration of the nail.
- The fix: For foot fungus, apply an over-the-counter (OTC) antifungal powder or cream twice a day and keep your feet as dry as possible. To treat nail fungus, first trim and clean out the debris beneath the nail, says Jane Denton, D.P.M., a podiatrist at the Center for Sports Medicine at Saint Francis Hospital in San Francisco. Next try an OTC topical medication such as Mycocide Antifungal Treatment NS ($18). If this doesn’t help, you may need a prescription.
- The fault: With an ingrown toenail, the corner of the nail grows down into the skin, causing irritation that can set you up for a bacterial infection.
- The fix: Soak the area in warm water for at least 20 minutes, several times a day, advises podiatrist Jane Denton, D.P.M. Afterward, put a small piece of cotton underneath the edge of the nail to retrain it to grow upward and apply an antibiotic ointment. If you suspect the area is infected, see a podiatrist or dermatologist.
Do you have any other tricks for dealing with foot problems?