7 Common Foot Problems — and How to Avoid Them
Your feet are an impressive network of bones, tendons, ligaments, and muscles that coordinate to carry out some pretty important tasks — like getting you from point A to point B. So when you’re dealing with foot problems, it can throw off your entire workout routine. Here’s what you need to know about the most common foot problems — what causes them, how to avoid them, and how to get back on your feet ASAP.
Common among runners, plantar fasciitis is an inflammation of the thick band of tissue (plantar fascia) that connects the heel bone to the toes. This leads to a stabbing pain in the bottom of the foot.
Paul Greenberg, D.P.M., podiatrist at NYU Langone Health, says this is the most common foot problem he sees, and can sometimes be caused by a quick and dramatic increase in activity levels. Greenberg recommends sticking to more gradual increases in exercise (or mileage, if you’re a runner).
Plantar fasciitis can also be caused by wearing unsupportive shoes, so make sure you get professionally fitted (e.g., at a running store) to find the best running shoes for your feet.
These fluid-filled bumps on the surface of the skin can pop up in any spot where your shoes or clothing repeatedly rub it. Blisters can be caused by working out in shoes or socks that are too loose or too tight — especially as your feet begin to sweat. Even your everyday footwear can cause blisters: “In the warmer months, people will wear flip-flops and get blisters from those,” Greenberg says.
To avoid getting blisters, wear moisture-wicking socks whenever possible and ditch the ill-fitting shoes. If your feet sweat a lot, apply some powder or petroleum jelly to blister-prone spots to minimize friction. You can also apply a soft bandage to create an extra layer of protection.
You’ve probably heard of athlete’s foot, but do you know what it is? Athlete’s foot is a fungal infection characterized by a scaly rash that often starts at the toes and causes itching, stinging, and burning. The infection can develop when your feet get sweaty while wearing tight shoes, or you can catch it from walking barefoot on contaminated surfaces.
To avoid getting athlete’s foot, don’t walk around public gyms, showers, pools, or yoga studios barefoot, Greenberg says. Keep a pair of sandals in your bag for getting to and from the pool and showers, and invest in some grip socks to wear in the studio. Change out of sweaty workout socks often, and try to wear lightweight, well-ventilated shoes that won’t trap moisture.
Ingrown toenails are pretty self-explanatory — they happen when the corner of a toenail (usually on the big toe) grows into your skin. This can cause pain, redness, and swelling, and can sometimes even lead to infection.
Common causes of ingrown toenails include wearing too-tight shoes, cutting your toenails too short, or injuring your toes. People with very curved toenails are also at greater risk.
To help prevent ingrown toenails, trim your toenails straight across. “Don’t cut into the corners,” Greenberg says. Don’t trim them too short, and avoid shoes that pinch or place pressure on your toes, as this might encourage a nail to grow into your skin.
If you get an ingrown toenail, home remedies — like soaking your feet in warm water and applying antibiotic cream — may help resolve the issue. If not, talk to your doctor.
Corns are thickened areas of skin that can develop on the tops and sides of your feet, or between your toes, as a way protect your skin against friction and pressure — similar to a callus, but with a small, raised bump in the center. (And unlike calluses, corns may be painful when you press on them.)
You can help prevent corns by wearing shoes that aren’t too tight or too loose. Also, be sure to wear socks with your shoes whenever possible to add a protective layer. Once you get rid of the friction or pressure, a corn will often go away on its own. If it doesn’t — or if you have diabetes or another condition that restricts the blood flow to your feet — talk to your doctor.
Bunions are bony bumps that form at the big toe joint. They can swell, limit mobility in the foot, and cause soreness or pain.
Bunions are especially common in women, Greenberg says, because they can be caused by wearing tight, narrow shoes that squish your big toe against the other toes. Bunions can also be caused by abnormal stress on your foot or a condition like arthritis.
Protect your feet from bunions by looking for shoes that don’t pinch or crowd your toes. If you develop a bunion, using bunion pads and shoe inserts, and icing your bunion, can help relieve any pain or pressure. If you can’t get relief and your bunion causes frequent pain, your doctor might recommend surgery.
Plantar warts — small growths with black pinpoints in the center — are caused by HPV, a common virus that can enter the body via small cuts on the bottoms of your feet. Plantar warts often appear at the base of the toes or the heel, and may cause pain or tenderness when walking or standing.
Most of the time, plantar warts will go away on their own, or they can be treated with over-the-counter remedies. If you have a wart that won’t go away, talk to your doctor about other treatment options, like freezing.
To help prevent plantar warts, keep your feet clean and dry, and don’t walk around public gyms, showers, pools, or yoga studios barefoot.