Source: Self; By Melissa Matthews, June 23, 2022
Don’t let foot infections, pain, and blisters ruin a good beach day.
In order to do their job of supporting your entire body, your feet need a little TLC—otherwise you could face issues like painful strains and sprains or gnarly infections. Especially now that warmer weather is here, it’s a good time to give this often-ignored body part the attention it deserves, Bryan Markinson, DPM, chief of podiatric medicine and surgery at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, tells SELF. Many common summer habits, such as wearing the same pair of flip-flops every day or walking barefoot, can be really hard on the feet. Here’s what you need to know to keep yours looking and feeling healthy all season.
1. Ease into summertime activities. As soon as the weather gets warmer, many people naturally want to get moving outside—but that can be hard on your body if you ramp things up too quickly, according to Jonathan Kaplan, MD, an orthopedist at Hoag Orthopedic Institute in Irvine, California. “A lot of the orthopedic issues we see are due to overactivity and overuse,” Dr. Kaplan tells SELF. This can result in painful foot problems like Achilles tendinitis, which is inflammation that develops when the Achilles tendon connecting your calf muscle to your heel bone is overworked, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Other common overuse problems include stress fractures, or tiny cracks in your bone, and plantar fasciitis, a leading cause of foot pain that occurs when the tissue connecting the heel bone to your toes (called the plantar fascia) becomes inflamed. Dr. Kaplan recommends approaching summer similarly to how a runner tackles their first race. “You want to start off by running a shorter distance—maybe a half a mile—each day or every few days so that you can focus on your mechanics and assess how your body is responding to the new activity,” he says. That thinking also works when it comes to activities like walking, hiking, and sightseeing. For example, start by walking just a couple of miles on the first day of a vacation. Soreness in your feet or legs is a good indicator that you need to scale back by taking more breaks or reducing your mileage. “Listen to your body, and if you start to notice mild [foot] symptoms, back off of what you’re doing,” Dr. Kaplan says.
2. Avoid wearing one type of shoe for every activity. Think twice before lacing up your running shoes to go on a hike. “Most shoes are designed to best accommodate the position your foot needs to be in in order to accomplish a particular activity,” Dr. Kaplan says. Hiking shoes, for example, have more structural support, whereas running shoes are typically more flexible to allow for the mechanics of running, he explains. Without the right support, you may be setting yourself up for a tendon strain or injuries such as sprains, according to the Cleveland Clinic. But even the right pair of shoes can cause problems if they don’t fit well, Dr. Kaplan says. You want to make sure your shoes have enough breathing room (not so loose that your foot slides around but not too tight that they cause discomfort) and proper arch support. (Check out our guide to the best workout shoes for every type of exercise if you need help finding the perfect pair for you.)
Shoes can also feel deceivingly comfortable when you’re briefly trying them on in the store, so Dr. Kaplan says it’s best to ease into wearing any new pair. To do this, start by wearing them for 20 minutes (say, while running a quick errand) to see how they feel. Then, slowly build up your wear time. You can also test shoes at home, but keep in mind that the comfort level can change depending on the surface you’re on.
3. Treat yourself to a pair of supportive sandals. Sandals are a summertime staple for obvious reasons, but they can leave your feet exposed to all sorts of risks. “In a perfect world, every person would wear a sneaker all day, every day,” since they offer the best support, Dr. Kaplan says. Of course, wearing sneakers all summer isn’t fun or realistic. You can still make sandals work for you—including flip-flops—as long as they have solid arch support, according to Dr. Markinson. This is key, since completely flat sandals put extra pressure on your feet, upping your risk for aches and pains. “You should hold the shoe in your hands and try to bend it in half,” Dr. Markinson says. “The more it resists bending in half, the better it is for support.” He also suggests gently twisting the shoe; again, more resistance generally means the sandal has a more supportive structure. Sandals that have a soft, cushioned footbed—usually made of materials like cork, foam, or leather—are more comfortable too. (Check out these cute and supportive sandals if you’re due for an upgrade.)
Pro tip: Once you find a pair of sandals your feet actually like, don’t forget to cover the tops of your feet with sunscreen that has an SPF of at least 30 when you’re spending time outdoors—because the last thing you want is a painful sunburn and awkward tan lines.
4. Avoid walking barefoot indoors and outdoors. In addition to protecting your feet from potentially harmful objects, shoes are a barrier from infection-causing viruses, fungi, and bacteria that tend to linger on surfaces such as pool decks, Dr. Markinson says. Walking barefoot outside increases your chances of getting an unpleasant infection like athlete’s foot, which is caused by a fungus, or plantar warts, which are small growths on the feet caused by the human papillomavirus, according to the Mayo Clinic. In both cases, the pathogens can enter your body through small cracks or cuts on the foot or around the toenails, leading to infections that are usually easy to treat but persistent and painful in some people, according to the Cleveland Clinic. (Both of these issues can cause complications in people who have high blood sugar, so it’s particularly important for people with diabetes to wear shoes in public places.)
At home, you may want to consider wearing shoes on hard surfaces like wood if you experience foot pain. “Having something under your feet will make your feet feel better, whether it’s a slipper or a good form-fitting sandal or even a shoe like a sneaker,” Dr. Kaplan says. “You’re adding padding to your feet, so you’re not getting as much pressure in that area.”
One important note: It’s best not to wear your designated indoor shoes outside, since that can bring potentially harmful pathogens (and other yucky debris) into your home.
5. Be cautious at the nail salon. Pedicures? Love them. Foot infections? Not so much. At a minimum you want to make sure that any tools used during a pedicure, such as metal nail files, clippers, and cuticle trimmers, are sterilized after every use. “You should ask to see the instruments taken out of a sterile bag,” Dr. Markinson says.
It’s important to remember that harmful pathogens can also live in the drains of salon foot basins, meaning it’s best not to put your feet directly into the tub before a foot soak, Dr. Markinson says. “There should be a liner in the tub which is changed after every client,” he says. “The only water that touches the client should be the water that comes out of the faucet.” If you feel uncomfortable about a salon’s practices, it’s important to either express your concerns or ask for adjustments. This can be nerve-wracking for some people, but remember that you can be direct and respectful by saying something like “I would prefer to skip the foot soak if the tub doesn’t have a liner” or “I don’t feel comfortable continuing with the pedicure if the tools are not sterilized.”
When you call to make your appointment, it’s worth asking about the salon’s hygiene practices so you know what to expect. Consider asking questions like “How will I know the tools have been sterilized?” or “Can you explain your process for sanitizing foot baths and nail tools?” A salon that strictly follows your state’s safety regulations won’t have any hesitations in answering your questions to ensure that you feel comfortable before your appointment.
6. Don’t forget to stretch your calves. Stretching your calves is one of the best ways to avoid foot pain, according to Dr. Kaplan and Dr. Markinson. Your calf muscles help make up your posterior chain, the group of muscles that run along the back of your body, including those along your spine, your hamstrings, and your glutes.
Tightness in one muscle can affect other muscles it’s linked to as well. When it comes to foot pain specifically, tight calves can pull on the plantar fascia or the Achilles tendon, leading to inflammation and pain in those areas, Dr. Kaplan says. You can help relieve tight calves by doing a variety of essential calf stretches whenever you need a bit of relief—your feet (and entire body) will thank you.