By Melissa J. Lockwood, DPM, Heartland Foot and Ankle Associates, P.C.
One of the joys of summer is shedding the heavy shoes and socks in favor of barefoot romps in the grass, walks on a sandy beach, and sporting adorable strappy sandals. However, sandal season is the busiest time for podiatrists! We see an increase in foot problems—from painful heels, to fungal infections, to injuries from accidents. Following are a few simple precautions to avoid summertime foot problems.
Don’t Go Barefoot
While it may seem natural and even healthful to go shoeless, this is probably the number one cause for many summertime foot woes. The most obvious danger is the risk of injury or infection by stepping on something like glass, a shell, or a splinter. The less obvious danger is contracting a virus, fungus, or bacteria that leads to warts, athletes foot, or infection. This is especially true around warm, moist environments like a public pool. Finally, many people develop foot and/or heel pain from going barefoot because they need the support that shoes provide.
Avoid Flimsy Flip Flops
Almost as bad as going barefoot is wearing flat, thin flip flops or sandals. These have no support, often become extremely slick on wet surfaces, and can be difficult to keep on—especially for children. Cheap, rubber flip flops can be fine if they are only worn at the pool as they will at least protect the feet from contracting germs. There are many flip flops and sandals available that offer terrific support, look amazing, and are easier to walk in. For children, look for a pair with some sort of back-strap. The croc-style shoes are also a good choice as they also offer protection for the toes. For all ages, never wear flip-flops to play sports or mow the grass
Get Rid of the Yuk
Have you ever noticed that your sandals and even closed toed summer shoes develop a dark grime imprint? Or perhaps you have a callous with darkish stains that don’t wash away? How about gunk that gets stuck under the toenail? Feet are exposed to all kinds of dirt and germs from walking in urban environments. I don’t even want to think about the nasties that might be lurking on the streets of New York! The solution is to thoroughly wash your feet every single night and think about the shoes you’ll wear if you’ll be doing some sight-seeing on vacation.
Don’t Forget the Sunscreen
Everyone knows the importance of using sunscreen on exposed skin, especially if you’ll be spending the day on a boat, beach, or pool. But people often forget to apply sunscreen to their feet—both the tops and the bottoms. Feet burn very easily and nothing will ruin your beach vacation faster than the pain of burnt feet.
Stop the Sweat
Feet sweat more in the summer which often leads to athlete’s foot or other fungal infections. This isn’t too much of a problem with sandals, but many types of closed-toed shoes—ballet flats, heeled pumps, or “boat” shoes—are worn without socks. This is inviting trouble. It also tends to be uncomfortable to slip and slide around inside your shoes. The solution is to wear no-show socks and prevent hot, sweaty feet and foot odor by rubbing cornstarch or roll-on antiperspirant directly on the soles of your feet. If you’ll be wearing athletic shoes or work boots, be sure to wear socks that wick moisture away. Cotton socks are not a good choice. It’s also a good idea to have an extra pair of socks handy so you can change into a dry pair if needed.
It’s very important to take a few precautions when getting a pedicure. Check out the facility and make sure that they are practicing good sanitation methods for their tubs. I recommend getting a pedicure early in the day on a day that isn’t very busy. Bring your own tools if possible, or make sure that the tools being used have been sanitized. And don’t shave or wax your legs for at least 24 hours before getting a pedicure as that causes miniscule breaks in the skin that provide a path for infection.
So there you have it—my tried and true recommendations for healthy summertime feet. I know that despite the risks, it can be hard to resist going barefoot or wearing sandals that you know aren’t supportive—and I confess to doing it myself on occasion and allowing my young children outside without shoes. But, as long as you use common sense, it should be clear sailing for a summer of healthy, pain-free feet.
For more information on any type of foot or ankle problem, you may contact Heartland Foot and Ankle Associates at 309-661-9975 or visit them online at www.HeartlandFootAndAnkle.com. They are located at 10 Heartland Dr. in Bloomington.