Health & Fitness

What Your Feet Say About You

The Unresolved foot problems can have unexpected consequences. Untreated pain often leads a person to move less and gain weight, for example, or to shift the balance in unnatural ways, increasing the chance of falling and breaking a bone. However, our feet are a good barometer of our overall health. From a pesky foot pain to more serious symptoms like numbness, our feet often show symptoms of the disease before any other part of our body.

So when the feet send one of these 5 warning messages, they mean business.

Foot Cramps

What it means: The sudden stab of a foot cramp — basically, the hard contraction of a muscle — can be triggered by fleeting circumstances such as exercise or dehydration. But if it happens often, your diet may lack sufficient calcium, potassium, or magnesium. Pregnant women in the third trimester are especially vulnerable thanks to increased blood volume and reduced circulation to the feet.

More clues: Charley horses tend to rear up out of nowhere, often while you’re just lying there. They can be a single sharp muscle spasm or come in waves. Either way, soreness can linger long afterward.

What to do: Try to flex the foot and massage the painful area. You may also be able to relax the muscle by applying a cold pack or rubbing alcohol. To prevent cramps, stretch your feet before you go to bed. Then drink a glass of warm milk (for the calcium).

Dry, flaky skin

What it means: Even if your face or hands tend to be powdery-dry, don’t dismiss this skin condition on your feet. You don’t have to be a jock to contract athlete’s foot, a fungal infection that usually starts as dry, itchy skin that then progresses to inflammation and blisters. When blisters break, the infection spreads. (The name comes from the moist places the fungus thrives — places athletes tend to congregate, such as locker rooms and pools.)

More clues: Athlete’s foot usually shows up between the toes first. It can spread to the soles and even to other parts of the body (like the underarms or groin), usually due to scratching.

What to do: Mild cases can be self-treated by bathing the feet often and drying them thoroughly. Then keep the feet dry, including using foot powder in shoes and socks. If there’s no improvement in two weeks or the infection worsens, a doctor can prescribe topical or oral antifungal medication.

A sore that won’t heal on the bottom of the foot

What it means: This is a major clue to diabetes. Elevated blood glucose levels lead to nerve damage in the feet — which means that minor scrapes, cuts, or irritations caused by pressure or friction often go unnoticed, especially by someone who’s unaware he has the disease. Untreated, these ulcers can lead to infection, even amputation.

More clues: Oozing, foul-smelling cuts are especially suspect because they’ve probably been there awhile. Other symptoms of diabetes include persistent thirst, frequent urination, increased fatigue, blurry vision, extreme hunger, and weight loss.

What to do: Get the ulcer treated immediately and see a doctor for a diabetes evaluation. Diabetics need to inspect their feet daily (older people or the obese should have someone do this for them) and see a healthcare professional every three months.

Cold Feet

What it means: Women, especially, report cold feet (or more precisely, their bedmates complain about them). It may be nothing — or it may indicate a thyroid issue. Women over 40 who have cold feet often have an under-functioning thyroid, the gland that regulates temperature and metabolism. Poor circulation (of either gender) is another possible cause.

More clues: Hypothyroidism’s symptoms are pretty subtle and appear in many disorders (fatigue, depression, weight gain, dry skin).

What to do: Insulating layers of natural materials work best for warmth. (Think wool socks and lined boots). If you also have other nagging health complaints, mention the cold feet to your doctor. Unfortunately, however, aside from treatment with medication in the event of a thyroid condition, this tends to be a symptom that’s neither easily nor sexily resolved.

Feet that are really painful to walk on

What it means: Undiagnosed stress fractures are a common cause of foot pain. The discomfort can be felt along the sides of the feet, in the soles, or “all over.” These fractures — they often occur repeatedly — may be caused by another underlying problem, often osteopenia (a decrease in optimum bone density, especially in women over age 50) or some kind of malnutrition, including a vitamin D deficiency, a problem absorbing calcium, or anorexia.

More clues: Often you can still walk on the broken bones; it just hurts like heck. (Some hardy people have gone undiagnosed for as long as a year.)

What to do: See a foot doctor about any pain. If for example, you’ve been walking around Europe for three weeks in bad shoes, your feet may simply be sore. But a 55-year-old sedentary woman with painful feet may need a bone-density exam. An X-ray can also reveal possible nutritional issues that warrant a referral to a primary care provider.

 

Do you have any of these feet conditions?
Did this article help you find a way to solve and have a healthier life style, starting with your feet!