Foot problems can spoil our holidays, because they are so unexpected. If you click on Foot Health Articles on this site, you can get some tips on holiday care for people with diabetes, I also wrote about a patient who suffered a holiday foot injury when he fractured his metatarsal as a result of a swimming pool fall! Also, check out the post on Holidays: Sore feet and sun back on 13 December 2008.
If you have been spending lot’s of time in the pool you might have felt your feet burning. Watch out for the surface of the pool – if it is a bit rough -rubbing the skin on your soles away. [This happened to a little girl I know recently]. You get red-raw skin because the protective outer layer is worn away. Just treat the area with antiseptic and a plaster, to keep the ‘bugs’ out and avoid an infection.
You can get a similar effect after that first, long-awaited barefoot walk along your stretch of beach! Our feet are usually protected in shoes and the skin is quite soft; our soft city-dwellers’ feet need a gentle introduction to the great outdoors!
Even regular runners can get burning soles after that early morning barefoot ‘quick 5 kays’ along beach! So don’t be afraid to wear your tekkies on the beach.
Sunburn is probably the most obvious holiday foot problem. Mostly to the tops of our feet and the front of the ankles. Use a high SPF cream or spray and re-apply during the day and if you go in the water.
Shoe rubbing is very common on holiday, as we spend more time in sandals. So look out for pressure or friction points that cause blisters – often made worse when there is sea sand added to the mix.
If you are somewhere exotic this New Year, try not to let sea anemone spines, puffer fish or jelly fish spoil your fun – but who really sees them coming anyway?
Then there are always the snakes! Whenever you go into potential ‘snake- country’, think ahead and be prepared. Make sure at least one person in your group is equipped to deal with a snake bite.
Unfortunately, this time year produces a number of common injuries like cuts from hidden glass and metal, plus aches and pains from too much walking, golf or frisbee! So don’t worry too much about that new heel pain, achilles tenderness or arch pain. It should settle down – if not – see a podiatrist.
The same goes for that itchy rash – could be fungus!
However you celebrate the New Year – from where I am, I’ll get a free fireworks show on Kleinleeuwkoppie at Hout Bay, courtesy of Sol Kerzner – I wish you and your families all the best for 2010.
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.
Best wishes for 2009. The first holiday injury came this week. Another sesamoid fracture . A 38 year old male patient returned to the practice for follow up to a visit in December, due to have impressions made for new orthotics.
He told me that on Christmas Eve he had slipped and fallen into a swimming pool with his leg fully extended – ‘straight out in front and under me’. The leg had hit the bottom of the pool with the ball of his foot, jarring it severely.
Over the next few days he experienced varying degrees of severe pain, best relieved with wearing thicker soled shoes. However, with the weight off the foot there was a constant throbbing.
Remembering the young lady I wrote about about towards the end of last year, I sent for X-rays. Result a fracture shows clearly in one of the sesamoids.
Treatment? Take it easy. No excessive activity – but cycling in the gym is OK. Thick and soft soled shoes – probably sneakers. Be patient!
Sesamoid fractures should always be suspected with a history of sudden stamping under the foot. They usually heal well, but may take time.
The case of the sesamoid fracture that I referred to the other day, has had an interesting development. You will have read that we ended up using an Aircast below knee walker. Unfortunately this was only successful for about one day. By the end of the day the pain was increasing.
I advised my patient to get advice from an orthopaedic surgeon who I know. The advice was really simple! Wear thick-soled soft trainers and take pain-killers until it is better. (Obviously only take the pain-killers as often as really necessary). This will allow normal movement – remember this condition is not treated by immobilisation in a cast – but not over use.
So what’s the lesson here? Simple treatments are often the most effective. Never ignore foot pain in the ball of your foot. Have it accurately diagnosed – it might be a sesamoid fracture.
I diagnosed a sesamoid fracture in a young woman this week. The presenting complaint, on Wednesday, was of “pain in the ball of the foot under the big toe joint for nearly 9 months, but 3 days ago (Sunday), whilst doing a long day shift the pain got really bad and only stops when I take weight off the foot.”
The ball of the foot was noticeably swollen, but not inflamed. However, when I applied light finger pressure to the area the pain increased and was particularly bad at one spot. The lady has a high-arched foot (pes cavus), but it is flexible not rigid. She is not overweight, but is very active everyday of the week -including some weekends – working long hours. She told me that she usually wears a low heeled shoe or sandal, but it had become impossible to wear slip-ons or ‘push-ins’ because of the pain. The only relief was to wear trainers with a thick sole. When the weight was removed by sitting or resting in bed there was no pain.
By applying a protective pad to the sole and the arch, with a cut-out around the painful area, painfree walking was possible. An X-ray was requested; both feet for reasons that I’ll explain shortly and a follow-up appointment was arranged for Thursday morning.
We met on Thursday and the X-ray showed a clear break in the lateral sesamoid. The pain was also worse because the padding had slipped backwards and out of position. By repositioning the pad, the pain was relieved again. I instructed her to use trainers as often as possible and suggested that she do the replacement padding herself. In addition I arranged for her to be fitted with an Aircast below knee walker, which she could borrow from the practice on Friday after work.
The treatment for this condition is mainly patience and removal of pressure. Which is why I decided on the Aircast. When we fitted the Aircast walking was immediately painfree. Now we both have to wait for the bone to fuse as one or even two bones.
There are two sesamoids under the ball of each foot. They allow a particular muscle to pull the foot down during standing and walking; they also survive a lifetime of bending at the ball (the first metatarso-phalangeal joint). In some people, one of the sesamoids is naturally bifurcate and can look as if it is fractured – called a normal variant -that is why I asked for both feet to be X-rayed. This fracture may heal in two parts also, which won’t be a problem.
Pain in this part of the foot is quite common. It is caused by excessive amount of shearing, compression or tensile stress over the joint. It can be associated with sports like golf and tennis. Starting running or training and doing too much or running in old trainers. Wearing old worn shoes, where the inner sole gets a deep imprint. It can be associated with rheumatoid athritis, or even standing on a ladder for long periods, when you aren’t used to doing that! Nearly always it affects people with a high arched foot who have over-used their feet.
Initially the bone and the joint under them become inflamed and that is called sesamoiditis. Ignore this and a sesamoid fracture may result.