Category Archives for "Foot Care"

After A Fall, Don’t Ignore The Pain

At the end of last week, a 60-something lady was brought to me complaining of a very painful ankle, three weeks after she tripped and fell whilst walking in the Bush.

She was uncertain which way her ankle had bent when she fell, but said there was a lot of swelling and bruising, which was only now starting to go down. Whilst in the Bush she had managed only basic First Aid with a bandage, to keep the swelling down so that she could get her foot into her trainers, but walking was extremely painful.

During my examination I isolated a point of severe pain over the tip of the lateral malleolus. [That’s the bit of your fibula that sticks out on the outside of your ankle joint]. The area was also swollen and hot to touch. Moving the ankle caused pain and the lady walked with a stiff-legged limp. The provisional diagnosis was to eliminate a fracture as the ankle joint is very stable and usually the injury in these situations is of severe ligament damage. However, because of the local symptoms I was thinking fracture. The obvious thing to do was send for X-ray.

The X-ray report confirmed a fracture of the tip of the fibula bone, only slightly displaced, fortunately. However, perhaps more importantly, the radiologist reported the appearance of ‘low bone density’ and therefore the possibility of osteoporosis.

The lady is now wearing a “Moonboot” below knee walker – with some difficulty – and was referred to her GP for investigation into the low bone density, which is now underway.

Now I know this isn’t really podiatry, but when questioned further, before I referred her, the lady revealed that she had never had a mammogram or bone density test. These tests are as important for older women as the prostrate examination is for men.

So if you have a fall or trip, don’t just put it down to a sprained ankle and put up with pain; monitor the pain, bruising and swelling. Also, ladies, don’t wait for the next time you need an X-ray to check your bone density.

Remember:  podiatrists don’t just treat feet, we treat people.


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Fungal Infection – Your Christmas Present?

Athlete's foot is a fungal infection of the sk...

Athletes Foot is the name used to describe a fungal infection of the skin of the foot. Characterised by an itchy, blistering rash on the skin in the arch of the foot - which rapidly spreads to between the small toes and even the heels, it can ruin your Christmas.

Tinea Pedis is the medical name for this condition. It is worse in the hot summer months when feet are either trapped in their usual dark, sweaty environment, or exposed to areas where someone with the infection has walked.

Usually communal showers at the gym, in hotels, airplane carpets - the fungal spores are everywhere - just waiting for the perfect dark, moist environment to enable them to grow.

A fungal infection can also be spread by your favourite leather sandals, as the spores can live in the leather for ages!

Try to prevent Athletes Foot by following a few simple steps.

  • AFTER WASHING ALWAYS DRY YOUR FEET THOROUGHLY, ESPECIALLY BETWEEN THE TOES
  • WEAR CLEAN SOCKS EVERY DAY
  • AVOID SYNTHETIC OCCLUSIVE FOOTWEAR IF POSSIBLE
  • WEAR SLIP-SLOPS IN ANY COMMUNAL SHOWERING AREA
  • USE AN ANTI-FUNGAL OR ANTISEPTIC FOOT SPRAY
  • EXAMINE YOU FEET FOR SIGNS OF A RASH, SMALL BLISTERS IN THE ARCH OR WHITE ITCHY SKIN BETWEEN YOUR TOES
  • BAREFOOT AND FRESH AIR IS GOOD, UNLESS THERE IS A MEDICAL REASON NOT TO BE

If you have a fungal infection treatment with oral medication can be costly, so start simple:

  • GOOD FOOT HYGIENE
  • SPIRITUS PEDIBUS FOOT SPRAY OR PROPRIETARY ANTIFUNGAL SPRAYS
  • TOPICAL ANTIFUNGAL CREAMS
  • HOWEVER, A COURSE OF ANTIFUNGAL TABLETS MAY BE NEEDED

Unfortunately, the fungal organisms that cause Athletes Foot tend to be very difficult to kill off. So even when your foot looks clear continue with the treatment for at least two more weeks.

One final word of warning. Not all rashes, or areas of itchy, moist skin are fungal infections. In the arch you might have a dermatitis. Between the toes it might be because your toes are stiff and bent. Or you might just need a good wash!!!

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Interesting cause of Heel Pain

Heel pain can be a really crippling  problem at all ages and especially for adult males. I have recently had an email from a 60 year old man complaining of heel pain. 

He described “sharp shooting pains in the left heel area. Usually when it comes under tension – even slightly, say from bending at the waist – or on impact – even the slightest.”

He went on to explain the pain as “odd, insignificant, but very sharp when it occurs.” He had only become aware of the pain in the past few days and said that the only change of habits was that he had started doing quite a lot of swimming. He didn’t indicate that he had had any injury.

My first thoughts were a series of questions:

 – “Do you have any lower back pain?

 – “How strong are your abdominal muscles?”

– “Does it come on spontaneously when sitting in the car or at the computer?”

– “Do you have any residual joint damage from sports injuries or osteo-arthritis?”

Shooting pains like this are usually associated with nerve entrapment,  pinching, or tight muscles like the hamstrings. At this age, osteoarthritis of the spine is a common cause. However, in this case, I suggested that the pain could be associated with the new range of movement since he started swimming.

Treatment for heel pain, begins with trying to find the cause, including the possible underlying cause at this age of being overweight, with a protruding belly! Not so in this case. Bearing in mind that this was an email communication and the symptoms were clearly described, I suggested the following:

  • Start by gently stretching your lower back when lying on your back on the floor
  • In this position, with knees bent and feet flat, roll gently side to side, all the time pressing your lower stomach into the ground
  • In the same position, curl your knees up to your chest
  • Another fun exercise is to kneel on all fours; extend your left arm out in front and your right leg out behind you; hold this for 10 seconds and change sides!
  • A Physiotherapy consult is advisable at the same time

A few days later, the gentleman diagnosed the problem as tension-related. He actually tried a rather risky move – “I can provoke sustained pain by crouching and then arching my back to put the whole back, rear leg muscles under tension.”

 Luckily he was able to get up from this position, not call the Fire Brigade to lift him up and take him to hospital!

There is no apparent foot problem of pronation or flat feet, so it does sound like a nerve – related problem.

Then out of the blue, another man of similar age visited the practice with similar symptoms. By me moving the foot into certain positions that stretched his lower back, I was able to reproduce the burning, shooting and tingling pains he complained of.

Doing some research on heel pain reveals many causes; nerve entrapment is one of the more difficult to diagnose.

702 Walk the Talk – footwear

Choosing the correct footwear for walking is very important. With the Talk Radio 702 Walk the Talk coming up this Sunday 26th July, there will be 50,000 people strolling, walking, meandering, marching and even racing through the streets of Johannesburg.

The most important thing is to keep to the footwear that you have been  using, don’t treat yourself to a new pair of trainers for the day, because although they may feel quite good at first, they need a bit of wear to ‘bed in’.

Walk the Talk 2009

Walk the Talk 2009 - Click to Enlarge

I suppose that there will be some serious hikers/walkers in the race and they will know that the best footwear is your regular well worn (not worn out) footwear. If you are walking, just for fun,  in your old worn out trainers, you might be better to walk in your most comfortable more formal shoes!

A firm but cushioning sole is best. Firmly laced, not too tightly, because your feet will swell a little and if laced too tightly, the lacing and tongue will press on the nerves on top of your feet, making them numb or tingly.

If you do get these symptoms, stop and re-tie your laces, rather then get pain. The fit around the heel must be close, so that there is no excessive sliding of your foot, because excessive sliding or shearing causes blisters.

Choice of socks is very personal. Thick or thin they should be able to absorb some of the sweat that you are going to shed. It’s worth using a thicker cotton sock rather than a woollen one.

Although many walkers and runners use no socks or even the feet out of stockings, again use what you are used to.

If you have been getting blisters during your preparation for the race, try putting a ‘blob’ of Vaseline over the place that blisters, it works as a lubricant and will reduce the risk of blistering.

An alternative is to cover a sensitive area with plaster, just beware of putting it where it could roll up and cause a sore spot.

Tactically, watch out for getting sucked along at a faster pace than you want to, or are able to go. This is one way to pick up an injury and get painful feet. You must try to keep to your own pace.

After the race, if you have blisters or any foot problem, look out for the University of Johannesburg Podiatry Caravan and treatment area, they will be able to help with most foot problems.

Prevent a fall-visit your podiatrist

Many older people suffer a fall with consequent injury such as a fractured  shoulder, wrist, hip, ankle or foot. In the UK there is an active falls prevention initiative, promoted by the National Health Service.  Not so in South Africa, although we are aware of the problem.

Have you ever thought how the state of your feet could contribute to a fall? Podiatrists should be  involved in preventing falls and your visit to one could help to prevent one.

Hazel Tomkins, a British podiatrist, writing in Podiatry Now has detailed how your feet can cause a fall.

So, if you want to stand on your own two feet here’s what to look out for.

Any corn, callus, ulceration, painful nail condition alters the way your foot hits the ground. This usually makes walking uncomfortable and unsteady. With age, the cushioning fatty pad on the soles  of the feet thins out – giving less protection to the bones and joints underneath.

Changes to the basic shape of the feet alters the ability to walk evenly. Often the cause of these changes is reduced muscle strength. On the other hand, any change in posture – quite common as we age – is associated with weakening of our muscles, so there is the potential for loss of balance or unsteadiness.

Watch out for changes to the length of your legs after hip or knee replacement surgery. The pain has gone but you really do need to do all the physiotherapy to restore muscle strength and balance.

At the same time there are many changes to hearing and eyesight which affect the ability to balance and see clearly what is going on around us.

If you have any nerve changes associated with diabetes (neuropathy), you are disadvantaged, because you have a reduced ability to respond to the sensory stimuli around you. On the other hand, arthritis can cause deformity as well as stiffness, making movement difficult, slower or unsteady.

Research into barefoot walking showed a 19% worse performance when barefoot compared with even a least unstable shoe. Going barefoot or stocking feet dramatically increases the falls risk.

Simple you might think, I’ll wear slippers or shoes. Well this is an area of some dispute. There is good scientific evidence that if you change to a lower or flat heel after a lifetime of wearing high heels, you have a greater risk of falling! At the same time there is research which suggests that the most important feature of footwear in preventing falls is the grip of the sole on the ground. Added to that is the need for good fit and thicker soles.

So what to do?

Keep mobile – exercise regularly – start walking, even if you use a walking aid. Maybe you need to start using one? Make sure that you can see and hear as well as possible.

A visit to a podiatrist for a biomechanical assessment is an important way to identify any underlying structural and functional problems. Treatment of any painful foot condition, such as corns and calluses, is essential and  information on the best shoes for you, will be provided.

Avoid higher heels, barefoot walking and slippers. Consider wearing trainers with a rippled sole. A word of warning though, some trainers have really ‘grippy’ soles and that can cause a fall!

Try to remove all loose carpet runners and potential hazards that you could trip over. Make sure the lighting in your home is adequate (most falls occur at home!).

It takes team work to prevent falls, so get any advice that you can, or share it with those who you know are at most risk of a fall.

Chilblains

Chilblains, also called perniosis
Image via Wikipedia

Chilblains are associated with cold winter conditions, often worsened by wet weather.

So as I go off to the Cape for a few days I’ll give you some suggestions to protect against ‘winter feet’.

Chilblains affect all age groups and both sexes, but girls and women do seem to suffer more.

Keep your feet warm and dry. Avoid socks with synthetic fibres, that can make your feet sweaty and cold.

Some modern fibres ‘wick away’ sweat, but you can get cold. Try a pair of mohair socks – Visit the Cape Mohair website.

If you are sitting for some time, try wrapping your legs in a loose-fitting blanket(think of the bottom of a sleeping bag).

Do wriggling and waggling exercises to keep the circulation moving in your leg muscles. Don’t sit for long periods, because if you have a sluggish circulation it makes it worse.

STOP SMOKING! The spasm or constriction of your blood arteries from ONE cigarette lasts 6 hours.

Take regular walks in well-fitting shoes. Tight shoes press the blood out of your toes. Thicker sole are important to protect your feet from the cold and wet. Boots are good but high fashion ones often don’t keep your feet warm.

Chilblains are the result of a defective response to a cold stimulus. For example: when you take the chicken out of the deep freeze, the nerves in your fingers send and receive a message  which causes the nerves to the blood vessels to shut down to protect the fingers from the cold.

When you have the chicken out on the kitchen worktop and you are back in the normal temperature the reverse messages happens, and you get a bit of  a tingling feeling as the blood flow returns to normal.

If this system has a delayed response – for whatever reason – the fingers remain cold, because the blood is lacking oxygen. Soon the body recognises this as abnormal and tries to fix it with an inflammatory response.

This can settle things with just a little swelling and pain in the fingers, but usually this process ends up with red, painful, swollen fingers, which look like cocktail sausages.

In some cases, this process is the result of a significant vascular disease, for example – Raynauds Syndrome(or Phenomenon). If you suffer from this you will know and should be havinr treatment – it is characterised by spontaneous spasm of the blood vessels of the hands – where you get an unexpected cold finger or fingers, at any time of year, but especially in winter.

Treatment for chilblains is difficult and usually centres around prevention. Shoes, socks and footwear as I have said.

There are some medicines prescribed by doctors called Vaso-dilators, but often topical preparations such as Thrombophob or Reparil Gel are tried.

Some Homeopathic preparations include Vitamin A and Nicotinic Acid which act as circulatory stimulants. Getting into a warm bed helps – but don’t sleep  with your feet up against a hot water bottle!

As I write this in Hout Bay, I’m happy to report that it has been a beautiful sunny and dry day.

Take care of your pair. No more smoking. Regular exercise. Keep chilblains away this winter.

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Ingrown Toe Nails

Post-surgery toe with removed nail shard
Image via Wikipedia

More people are complaining about their ingrown toe nails as winter comes and closed shoes are being worn more.

The most common cause of  an ingrown toe nail is poor self-treatment, but  there are numerous other factors, divided into intrinsic and extrinsic.

Common intrinsic(internal) factors are the basic shape of the nail – especially at the edges – we all have different curvatures and angles and some nails have increased curvature  on one side only.

Another factor is the structure and function of the foot (the biomechanics). If a flexible foot rolls or flattens excessively toes can rub against each other, causing pressure. Other factors can be sweaty feet and thin skin, caused by age, medication or circulation.

However, it is the extrinsic factors that really produce the problems – poor self-cutting and shoe pressure top the list. (Sometimes even health care professionals and therapists can cause ingrowns!),  tight socks and injuries can also be added to this list.

In the clinic, the appearance of  ingrown toe nails varies from a small pink swelling, to an inflamed growth or ‘proud flesh’, like a small cherry, lying over the nail plate. The pain seems to depend on the individual’s pain threshold more than the condition itself.

The offending nail can be just a small ‘shoulder’, pressing into the sulcus or a sharp spike of nail which penetrates the skin. The skin tries to heal itself when a spike penetrates it and that process leads to the formation of ‘proud flesh’ or hypergranulation tissue. Of course if the toe becomes infected then pus is also present.

Treatment for ingrown toenails varies with the cause and duration. The simplest treatment is correctly cutting out the offending portion of nail. In the more painful and complicated cases this is done under a local anaesthetic.

The permanent solution under local involves an operative procedure where the complete side of the nail including the matrix, is cut out and the matrix space is destroyed with a strong caustic. After about a month the side where the nail was looks normal – the cavity heals completely. This is a procedure that podiatrists do very well as an outpatient procedure.

Obviously avoiding  ingrown nails is the best, but nobody should suffer with them when skilled podiatric care is available.

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May is World Foot Health Awareness Month

The International Fedaration of Podiatrists, headquartered in Paris, France, has declared May to be World Foot Health Awareness Month. I join them in calling the attention of the public and health care providers to the importance of good foot and ankle care. It’s time for all South Africans to stop and take a look at their feet!

The importance of good foot health and the role played by the podiatrist cannot be overstated, since, most South Africans will develop some foot or ankle problem during their lifetime. World Foot Health Awareness Month is a marvellous opportunity to stop and consider the value and importance of our feet.

Winter is nearly here and we will be spending more time in closed shoes. Do last year’s boots really still fit? Are they going to cause pressure calluses?

Don’t wait for your foot problem to become severe. Remember that the average person takes about 8,000 to 10,000 steps per day and while you’re walking, your feet are taking a pounding; often enduring more than your body weight with each step.

As part of World Foot Health Awareness Month 2009, there is a special focus on Diabetes and the Diabetes Health Care Team. In support of this initiative, the South African Diabetic Foot Working Group (DFWG), will be presenting free patient-oriented symposia nationwide.
PRETORIA:
30th May. Contact: Andrika Symington: 012 548 9499
CAPE TOWN:
9th May.Contact: Anne Berzen 072 342 9558
BLOEMFONTEIN:
13th June. Contact: Dr Willem de Kock 082 379 6231
DURBAN:
to be confirmed. Contact: Dr Paruk 031 241000-ask for speed dial
JOHANNESBURG:
to be confirmed. Watch this space!

These symposia will offer a unique opportunity for people with diabetes and their families to ask questions of the members of the health team directly involved in foot care.

MAY 2009 is WORLD FOOT HEALTH AWARENESS MONTH

Bunion Surgery – A Painful Choice

Deciding to have bunion surgery can be one of the most difficult health decisions to make. ‘Bunions’ are a cause of distress to many thousands of people -mostly women -worldwide. Last year, I wrote about bunions and my opinion was and still is – “avoid bunion surgery if at possible, unless it is ruining your life and crippling you with pain”.

The ‘bunion’ referred to here is the bony deformity characterized by a big toe that deviates towards the rest of the toes, possibly accompanied by a second toe which is bent and overlies it.

When any surgical intervention is considered, be it the podiatrist enucleating a corn, removing part of a toe-nail or the orthopaedic surgeon realigning the foot in bunion surgery, all of us strive to do our best to achieve a satisfactory outcome, by exercising our skills to the utmost.

So you can imagine my concern to have two patients recently complaining bitterly about their unhappiness with the result of their bunion surgery. Add to this my surprise at the ‘twenty-something’ who wants surgery because she doesn’t like the look of her feet and her bunion (this one is the small thickening of the metatarsal bone with no deformity), prevents her from wearing the high fashion shoes she needs for work.

What can you say to a middle-aged, active woman who decided to have her bunion (deformed type) corrected, but after three months can only wear trainers with the toe cut out, has a swollen foot, pain and discomfort, difficulty driving, plus all the associated emotional stress? Or how do you respond to a similar woman who is now in constant pain and has had altered her walking style because the foot is rigid at the big toe joint?

To the best of my knowledge the procedures were technically successful and there is no deformity anymore. In addition we all react differently to a surgical “assault” and time does allow better healing. Also, there are numerous variations of operations and techniques available for bunion correction surgery.

Firstly – go back to the surgeon and discuss your options.
Secondly – see if a podiatrist can assist with biomechanical correction or alignment and footwear advice.

With my 2 patients, one has had orthotics made and the other I referred to the surgeon, who has recommended further physiotherapy, with the possibility of another operation to remove the steel plate that is in the foot.

I will still refer patients who meet my criteria outlined above for consideration for surgery, because the final decision to undergo sugery is always taken by the patient. Unfortunately, there can be no absolute guarantees since the structure of each foot is so complicated.

So what to do about ‘bunions’? Is there an underlying systemic disease such as rheumatoid arthritis?

We must consider the patient’s age. Is the patient overweight? What is the biomechanical structure and function, not only of the feet but lower limbs and body? Have all possible conservative measures such as night splints, orthotics, insoles, appropriate footwear, been exhausted?

Be guided by the severity of loss of function, pain, discomfort and limitation of daily activities. Will the patient be able to adhere to all the post-operative requirements, expected by the surgeon?

Eventually, all these factors (plus others), must be seriously thought about before undergoing bunion surgery.

Foot Fit for Voting?

Are you ‘foot fit’ for voting? On Wednesday of this week South Africans go to the polls to elect a new government. Foot fitness could be important since the process can involve many hours of extra standing or walking.

Here are a few tips to help you through the day!

Try to get a lift to the polling station – this reduces the walking you have to do.
Take a folding chair or sit on the ground if your feet start to ache.
Wear comfortable shoes with thicker soles – trainers or lace ups are best, because they can be loosened if your feet and ankles start to swell.
Don’t stand in one position for too long – move from foot to foot, wriggle your ankles up and down to keep the circulation going.
Bend gently from the knees up and down a few times.

If you have diabetes and reduced sensation take extra care that you don’t rub a blister from your shoes.

Start talking to the people around you – it helps to pass the time!
(Try to avoid talking politics!).

Have something to eat before you go to vote. (Voting on an empty stomach is as risky as shopping on an empty stomach!).

Sometime it’s a good idea to go later to the polling station, since everyone wants to get there early!

Above all do vote. Remember that it is a Public Holiday, so rush home and put your feet up.