Keeping Your Feet Healthy: A Guide for Men
Men, when was the last time you did your pedicure? Scrubbed your feet in the shower? Applied foot cream? Chances are that you never have and you are probably wondering, do guys really do this?! Well, some (too few) do, some won't admit they do (but why?), but most will flat out honestly tell you that they don't need to or don't care to. Take it from me, a foot know-it-all: you need to care. Here are my suggestions for clean and healthy-looking feet, for you, men (and women, too)!
Favorite Foot Care Products:
- Urea 40% gel under occlusion: When patients come to my office with thick calluses and cracked heels I commonly recommend the use of urea 40% gel, such as Bare 40 Moisturizing Urea Gel. I inform my patients to apply this gel evenly onto both feet at night, wrap their feet with saran wrap, and wear socks to bed. The saran wrap will promote the penetration of the gel into the foot to help break down rough calluses and dry cracked skin and promote smoother and softer feet. In the morning, remove the socks and saran wrap. Get in the bathtub or shower and scrub those feet. I recommend the use of a foot file, such as the Amope Pedi Perfect foot file to remove the thickened and calluses areas of the foot that have been broken down and softened by the urea cream overnight.
- Toe Socks and Correct Toes: Toe socks and correct toes may be used to extend the space between each toe and help reduce pressure and damage from wearing tight, ill-fitting shoes that can cause painful foot ailments, like Morton’s Neuroma and bunions. Both products help relieve discomfort and pain and promote blood circulation to enhance nourishment and healing of the forefoot and toes.
- Lysol: Although Lysol is not a product to be used directly onto the skin, I highly recommend the use of this product to many of my patients to help reduce the presence of germs that commonly infect the feet. The three most common foot infections are caused by a virus, bacteria, or fungi. Plantar's Warts are caused by the human papillomavirus. Athlete's Foot is caused by fungus, an organism similar to a mold, that feeds on dead skin and nails. Cellulitis is an infection caused by bacteria that may result in red, hot, swollen, and painful feet. Each of these germs are contagious and are commonly found in dark and moist environments, such as communal bathing facilities and shoes. Lysol disinfectant spray kills 99.9% of viruses and bacteria. I commonly inform my patients to use Lysol Spray to eliminate these germs by sanitizing their shoes, shoe inserts, and shower floors regularly.
- Stride Insoles by Tread Labs: Although I prefer to recommend custom foot orthotics over prefabricated insoles, some health insurance companies do not provide coverage for custom orthotics and they can be expensive when paying out of pocket. When this is the case, I highly recommend Stride insoles by Tread Labs. This product is the ideal non-custom choice when it comes to providing adequate foot support to help reduce discomfort and pain. It also slows down the progression of biomechanical imbalances in the foot that lead to issues, such as arch/heel pain and tendonitis. My preference for this product over other insoles is that the product has a low-profile design which can easily fit into most shoes and has a durable polyurethane foam making them resilient and firmer, ultimately making the insole last longer. From my experience when compared to others, these inserts have a greater effect in controlling the collapsing of the arch, referred to as pronation, which is the leading cause of most foot pain and anatomical abnormalities, such as bunions and hammertoes. Last but not least, these inserts are made with replaceable antimicrobial top covers which helps eliminate 99.9% of bacteria.
- Straight Edge Toenail Clipper: I use these clippers to maintain healthy nails and avoid painful ingrown toenails. A straight edge toenail clipper ensures the nails are cut straight across, decreasing the chance of ingrown toenails. This can be easily achieved at home, however if an ingrown toenail is present it is recommended to be treated at your podiatrist.
- Apple Cider Vinegar: I also combat calluses by soaking my feet in apple cider vinegar. I mix apple cider vinegar with 3 tablespoons of epsom salt and soak calluses for 20 minutes. Acetic acid, the main component of apple cider vinegar, has keratolytic effects, which basically breaks down keratin, the structural material that our skin, hair, and nails is made up of. Acetic acid helps break down thick and painful calluses and unclog blocked pores that may commonly occur on the soles of the feet. Apple cider vinegar also contains alpha hydroxy acid which helps balance the pH levels of your skin as it absorbs the excess oil of the skin while improving its texture and smoothness. Both acids in apple cider vinegar have antifungal, antiseptic, and antimicrobial properties which help fight Athlete's Foot, fungal nails, and foot odor-causing bacteria. Last but not least, apple cider vinegar can also help with swelling and pain through its anti-inflammatory properties.
Men, it's important to take care of your feet. Feet are commonly the most neglected part of our bodies - yet we rely on them every day. It’s not uncommon for men to disregard their foot health until they contract a foot ailment or they're experiencing severe pain. The issue with neglecting your feet is it could lead to more serious issues that could impact the rest of your body and some actions could even be harmful to other aspects of your body. For example, walking barefoot exposes you to contract bacterial infections, such as fungal infections that lead you to athlete’s foot or viral infections that lead to Plantar's Warts. Wearing the wrong shoes is also an issue that leads to foot ailments. Walking in the wrong shoes could not only result in foot pain or Plantar Fasciitis, but it could impact your knees, back and posture. Spend money on the right shoe.
Most Common Foot Conditions Due To Improper Hygiene
Athlete’s Foot: Athlete’s Foot is a fungal infection of the foot that develops commonly on the soles of the feet and in between the toes. It usually produces itchy, dry, and scaling skin. In more severe cases, inflammation, cracks, and blisters may form. Athletes commonly suffer from sweaty feet and use facilities where the fungus is found (ie. gym locker rooms, showers) thus the term "Athlete's foot." Athlete’s Foot can be easily prevented by changing your socks frequently to avoid creating a moist environment for your feet, spraying your shoes with Lysol every day to kill bacteria that is often found in warm, moist places, and wearing shoes in public facilities.
Plantar Fasciitis: Your foot contains a thick band of tissue called plantar fascia that stretches from your heel to your toes. That tissue’s job is to support the muscles and arch of your foot. Too much tension on the tissue can cause it to stretch too far, resulting in tiny tears that cause pain and inflammation. I see this issue in a lot of athletes, especially if they don’t wear proper fitting shoes to the gym. It’s important to support your arch to avoid stretching your plantar fascia to the point of pain.
Nail Fungus: Nail fungus is a condition that occurs when a microscopic fungus enters one or more nails. This condition often begins as an infection in the skin, which is commonly referred to as Athlete’s Foot. As the nail fungus penetrates deeper into the nail, it may cause the nail to discolor, thicken, and develop crumbling edges - an unsightly and potentially painful problem. Most people develop nail fungus as a result of walking barefoot in public places. This can be treated at home, but for extreme issues I suggest seeing a podiatrist who can likely solve this issue in a matter of weeks. Gotham Footcare now offers an effective and Over-the-counter ointments can often take months to eliminate the fungus.
How To Prevent Foot Health Issues
1) Make sure your shoe is fitted to your foot. Proper fitting shoes provide a platform for our feet to support our body. Our feet are the foundation to our bodies and caring for them means caring for the rest of our body too. Shoes that are too big mean you will be accommodating the improperly fitted size in a dysfunctional way which may lead to foot problems. I suggest getting your feet measured for length and width with a brannock device and buying the right fitting shoe. It is important to take into consideration that size of shoes varies from company to company. It’s also very important to try on shoes in the store at the end of the day when your feet are the most swollen. This will ensure the shoe is a proper fit.
2) Examine the color of your toenails each week. There are several things that can negatively impact the color or texture of your nail. Fungus is a common issue that we see. Yellow or brown and thickened nails are signs of fungal nails that can be easily treated by a podiatrist. However, other colors could indicate larger health issues. For example, a black stripe on your nail could be a sign of skin cancer, HIV or Lupus.
3) Don’t walk barefoot ever (especially at the gym)! Walking barefoot on hard surfaces allows our foot to collapse which can lead to a tremendous amount of stress not only to the foot but to the rest of the body. This has the same detriment as wearing flip flops. Walking barefoot also exposes our feet to bacterial and fungal organisms that can infect the skin and nails. These organisms can lead to infections that change the appearance, smell, and comfort of the foot, such as Athlete's Foot or fungal nails.
4) There are several benefits of regular foot soaking that may benefit not only the feet but also your overall health. Soaking your feet helps to relax muscles and reduce pain/strain because it helps promote circulation to the feet. Going to a (sanitary) foot spa may also help in detoxification of the feet by promoting the transfer of toxins to the lymphatic system and kidneys which helps improve the health of your feet but your body. The effects of soaking your feet include reducing headaches and stress, ultimately helping your disposition and overall health.
When Should Men See A Podiatrist?
Discolored and brittle nails: There are several things that can negatively impact the color or texture of your nail. Fungus is a common issue that we see. Yellow or brown and thickened nails are signs of fungal nails. This is caused by a microscopic fungus that infects one or more nails. The color of your nails can tell you a lot about your health. For example, if your nail has a black stripe on it, you should see a podiatrist immediately. There are numerous causes of black stripes on nails. Treatment of this condition depends on discovering the underlying cause and can be best evaluated by a medical professional. The most common reason for dark stripes down a person’s nails is a condition which occurs in almost 50% of African Americans, known as Linear Melanonychia. This condition occurs when pigments in the nail known as melanocytes, make excess pigment causing the nail beds to darken. Less common reasons include the following: taking certain medications, such as chemotherapy drugs skin cancer, and immunodeficiency diseases, such as HIV, Lupus, and Scleroderma. Last but not least, another cause of black lines on the nails is a splinter hemorrhage which occurs when blood vessels under the fingernail are damaged, resulting from impact and injuries.
Pain and swelling around the big toe or discomfort while walking: This can be a symptom of a bunion which should be examined by a podiatrist immediately. A bunion is a deformity of the front of the foot and the great toe joint. It is often described as a bump on the side of the big toe. When the biomechanics of the foot are imbalanced it can worsen over time. They start when the big toe rotates sideways towards the second toe. The bones of the first metatarsal shifts in the opposite direction and gradually changes the angle of the bones. This produces the characteristic bump, which increases prominently over the years.
Ingrown toenails: An ingrown toenail is a common condition typically affecting the great toe, in which the corner or side of the nail becomes incurvated (turned inward) and grows into the skin and soft flesh of the toe. This results in irritation of the surrounding soft tissue, often causing pain, redness, swelling, warmth, and sometimes an infection. It’s not uncommon for male patients to attempt “bathroom surgery” to dig out the ingrown on their own but this often causes more serious infection and rarely solves the underlying issue.
Should I Get A Salon Pedicure?
Pedicures are completely fine as long as the salon is practicing good hygiene protocols. I suggest ensuring that the pedicurist uses new utensils or bring your own tools with you to ensure you don’t contract any fungus or bacteria that could lead to Athlete’s Foot or Plantar’s Warts. I also would not allow them to cut my cuticles or toenails to avoid potential infections or ingrown.
How About A DIY Pedicure?
Sure! Follow my previously mentioned tips about soaking and scrubbing your feet. Use the Straight Edge Toenail Clipper to maintain healthy nails and avoid painful ingrown toenails. A straight edge toenail clipper ensures the nails are cut straight across, decreasing the chance of ingrown toenails. This can be easily achieved at home, however if an ingrown toenail is present it is recommended to be treated at your podiatrist.
After cutting your toenails with a straight edge nail clipper, you should file your toenails down with an emery board to smooth out the edges. When filing, it's important to file your toenails using light pressure and long strokes in one direction to minimize the trauma to the surrounding nail bed.
If you have damaged toenail cuticles, you should start drinking more water to be properly hydrated. Maintain the proper moisture balance of your cuticles and feet by lubricating them with Eucerin cream and taking vitamins such as Biotin and hair, skin & nail vitamins.
So men, do yourself (and your partner) a favor, take care of your feet. Be good to them and they'll be good to you!