9 Common Foot Problems and Podiatrists’ Simple Solutions

Foot problems can plague you any time of year, but summer can be especially damaging. We asked podiatrists to share their best tips for keeping healthy.

By Alyssa Jung
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    Foot pain? Create better support.

    Shoes that notoriously lack support around the arch, ankle, and heel (like flip-flops or some sandals) can cause pain or injury, and most foot docs recommend you limit your time wearing them. If you must, make them more comfortable and safer with arch support insoles. New York City podiatrist Johanna Youner, DPM, recommends the Superfeet brand. “They’re discreet and will fit pretty much into any shoe,” she notes. Inserts can also help prevent or alleviate knee, back, or ankle pain, all of which can develop when your body compensates for poor arch support. Another trick: Stretch your feet, ankles, calves at the end of every day to help with any discomfort.

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    Blisters? Cover them properly.

    If, despite your best efforts, a blister erupts, please, please, please don’t pop it, pleaded every podiatrist interviewed for this story, because a popped blister is much more vulnerable to infection. What to do: Apply antibiotic cream and cover the area with a bandage; it should heal in a few days. If it's especially bad—large, or blood filled—see a podiatrist immediately, because it could be infected.

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    Shoes rubbing? Buy the right bandage.

    In a love-hate relationship with your new shoes? Special blister bandages may help keep the peace. Dr. Youner recommends drugstore brands like Pedifix or Spenco, which are a little more expensive than regular bandages ($6 to $8 a box compared with $3 to $4). The squishy liquid-filled bandages condition the skin and create a barrier to minimize blister-causing friction. Place them on problem spots, like where sandal straps rub, to prevent sores—or cover and protect an existing blister. "They're discreet enough to wear even with flip-flops," says Dr. Youner.

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    Sweaty feet? Spritz on antiperspirant.

    It’s not just the stench; sweaty feet can also cause cracked heels, lizard-like skin, and even fungal infections. Each of your toes has about 250,000 sweat glands, which can churn out half a pint of sweat every day. To minimize the amount of perspiration that reaches the surface, mist your feet with an antiperspirant/deodorant spray every morning and night, says Wenjay Sung, a podiatrist and foot-and-ankle surgeon in California; the metals in antiperspirant will block your sweat ducts.

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    Itchy feet? Try a vinegar bath.

    Once an infection develops, Dr. Sung swears by a foot bath of malt or white vinegar. It won't cure the infection, but will soothe the irritating itch, he says. 

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    Fear of cancer? Sunblock your feet.

    Many people don't think of applying sunblock to the top of their feet, but you should make this part of your daily routine in the summer, says Dr. Youner, who has seen in increase in skin cancer on patients over the last five years or so. Slather a sunscreen with at least SPF 30 on the top and bottom of your feet and between your toes.

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    Athlete's foot? Kill it with baby powder.

    Dr. Youner sprinkles foot powder, baby powder, or corn starch daily in all her closed shoes to kill any fungus trying to grow. "It keeps my feet from getting infected and also freshens the shoe," she says. Many patients ignore itchy feet and toes, but if your feet look scaly and you can't stop scratching, there's a good chance it could be athlete's foot or another infection. In general, don't go barefoot or wear flip-flops near public pools and in locker rooms; these warm, moist surfaces are breeding grounds for warts and bacterial infections, suggests Ami Sheth, DPM, a podiatrist in California, who also warns parents to watch for their kids.

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    Stinky feet? Air out your shoes.

    Always be sure to air out shoes after you wear them, which helps ward off bacteria growth. If you can swing it, never wear the same shoes two days in a row. 

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    Kids' foot pain? Insist on running shoes.

    Kids love running around barefoot, which is why Dr. Sung seems more kid patients in summer than any other time of year. A common complaint is heel pain, which can occur when the growth plate in the heels gets irritated from overuse. The key to prevent it? Good footwear. He recommends running shoes over tennis shoes or cross trainers, because they have extra support. A quality shoe must pass his bend test: "The more it bends in your hands, the less supportive it is,” he says. If sneakers are a battle, compromise with a sport sandal, says Dr. Sheth. These usually have a toe cap or straps that provide a little support, making them less likely to fall off during play.

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