Posted May 29, 2008

Ten ‘feet treats’ that do more harm than good

Summer is finally here, and that means it’s time to show off those feet. But before you get carried away trying to get that pedicure, slough off those corns or run barefoot through the park at a picnic, Tracey Vlahovic, D.P.M., associate professor of podiatric medicine and orthopedics at Temple University’s School of Podiatric Medicine, hopes to dispel some common myths that could actually do more harm than good to your feet.

Myth: Flats, flip-flops and even going barefoot are perfectly fine for your feet.
Fact: This is a common misconception, because we always hear about the problems with high heels,” says Dr. Vlahovic. “But these three present their own types of problems.” Specifically, flip-flops do not provide any support and can lead to conditions such as plantar fasciitis, or even ankle sprains and tendonitis. Flats look comfortable but can be painful to your feet by

Photo by Jeanne Lockner
Preparing your feet for summer may seem like you’re pampering them, but you could actually be doing more harm than good with several techniques and at-home treatments for common ailments. Even going barefoot can present its own problems.

causing severe heel pain and blisters, crowding toes and worsening conditions such as hammertoes and bunions. Walking barefoot can lead to foot problems such as cuts, abrasions, bruises and a puncture wound from a foreign object, and make you vulnerable to skin issues or nail injuries.
Diagnosis: Dr. Vlahovic says it’s fine to wear flip-flops or flats, but only for a few hours at a time, and if you are planning on wearing them for any longer, she recommends stretching the Achilles tendon afterward. As for walking barefoot, it should only be done in the comfort of your own home, and even then, be mindful of small objects that could be caught in the carpet. But patients who are at risk such as diabetics and those with peripheral vascular disease should always wear protective foot gear in and out of the house.

Myth: At-home scrubs and soaks for corns are safe and effective.
Fact: A corn is a small buildup of skin with a hard core, caused by friction where the toe knuckle rubs against the shoe, often caused by a hammertoe. As a result, “at-home soaks or scrubs would just exfoliate, not ‘remove’ corns,” says Dr. Vlahovic.
Diagnosis: The only way to remove a corn permanently is to correct the hammertoe, so that it stops rubbing against the shoe. Another alternative would be to wear shoes with a wider toe box.

Myth: You don’t need to put sunscreen on your feet.
Fact: “Skin cancer on the legs and feet actually has a high mortality rate due to people forgetting to do skin checks on that area. It’s often caught too late,” says Dr. Vlahovic. “This is due in large part to the fact that many people simply forget to apply or reapply sunscreen to the lower extremities.” She adds that African and Asian American women can also be susceptible to skin cancer of the lower extremity, mainly because they feel they are immune to it due to their darker skin tones.
Diagnosis: “No matter race or ethnicity, the legs and feet are not immune to the sun’s effects, and women have an even greater chance of developing skin cancer than men, because they often have more of their leg exposed,” says Dr. Vlahovic. “The best protection is to continually apply sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15 with both UVB and UVA protection, every few hours, and more often if you’re going to be at the beach, running in and out of the water.”

Myth: All pedicure salons use sterile instruments, so it’s fine to use theirs.
Fact: “Unfortunately, this is not the case with all nail salons,” says Dr. Vlahovic. “As a result, the instruments can spread germs that can cause nail fungus and bacterial infections.”
Diagnosis: To be safe, it’s best to invest in your own nail files, clippers and cuticle sticks, but if you choose to use shop instruments, make sure they are sterilized after each use.

Myth: Soaking your feet in the motorized tub at a nail salon is perfectly fine, because they scrub them out after each use.
Fact: Often the antiseptic that is put in the water between clients doesn’t catch all the germs. Bacteria and fungus can get caught in the filter of the motorized tub and still cause a problem.
Diagnosis: It would be safer to ask the technician if they have a clean bowl or basin to use instead, with individual liners for even greater protection.

Myth: Cutting straight across is the proper way to trim your toenails.
Fact: Cutting the toenail straight across, and too short, can pave the way for ingrown toenails, which are a real danger for diabetics. If left untreated, ingrown toenails can lead to infection and possibly an abscess, which would mean corrective surgery.
Diagnosis: Leave the nail slightly longer, trimming along the natural curve of your toe.

Myth: Soaking your feet in vinegar will get rid of toenail fungus.
Fact: “It’s a common myth perpetuated by both physicians and patients alike that vinegar is a cure-all,” says Dr. Vlahovic. “But vinegar can’t penetrate the layers of the nail to get to the infection site. And without proper treatment, the infection can spread to other nails.”
Diagnosis: The best way to get rid of fungal nails is to see your dermatologist or podiatrist. They can perform a culture to see if it is a true fungal infection, or if it’s something else. Be sure to follow their instructions to the letter to avoid a recurrence.

Myth: Antibiotics will make ingrown toenails go away.
Fact: Your doctor might prescribe an antibiotic for your ingrown toenail, but it’s actually to clear up a resulting infection. The cause of the problem — the nail — is still there.
Diagnosis: In order to “cure” an ingrown toenail, you should visit your doctor, who will most likely trim or remove the ingrown portion of the nail. Do not ever try to remove an ingrown nail yourself.

Myth: Conditions such as athlete’s foot and warts aren’t contagious.
Fact: Both of these conditions are highly contagious, and easily spread in environments such as locker rooms or showers. The infections can be picked up through small breaks in the skin of the bottom of the foot.
Diagnosis: In order to stop the spread of germs and viruses that cause both of these, Dr. Vlahovic suggests keeping your feet clean and dry. Don’t wear dirty socks. Also, be sure to thoroughly clean your bath or shower area. “If one person in the household has it, everyone should be cautious and take proper precautions,” said Dr. Vlahovic. And if you must use a public shower, make sure to wear flip-flops to protect your feet.

Myth: Duct tape removes plantar warts.
Fact: Studies have shown that duct tape is just one of the many ways of treating warts, but by no means is it a cure-all. Dr. Vlahovic notes that in several double-blind placebo controlled studies, duct tape showed virtually no difference over the placebo, but adds that the method appears to work better on fingers than on plantar warts.
Diagnosis: “If you have a plantar wart, don’t pick or perform bathroom surgery on it,” says Dr. Vlahovic. “Don’t put duct tape on it and expect it to go away since there is a specific protocol for using it. See your dermatologist or podiatrist for this and other treatment options.”

Of course, not every treatment works the same for everyone. Dr. Vlahovic says not to try any home remedies before consulting your doctor, and adds that it’s important to see your doctor at the first sign of any discomfort.