Taking care of your feet

We help you find your happy feet, with tips for buying foot-care products as well as shoes for school or ageing feet.
 
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01 .Foot-care products

Foot care and foot wear advice

There are plenty of foot-care products in the pharmacy and health store but which ones are worth buying (green light), and which should you avoid (red light)? We give you the lowdown on 10 popular foot products.

Green light Non-medicated callus and corn cushions – these doughnut-shaped pads can help provide relief from pressure on corns and calluses. To get rid of corns, soak your feet in warm water for 20 minutes, and rub away the softened, dead skin with an emery board, pumice stone or rough wash cloth. If they keep recurring, consider changing your shoe style.

Red light Callus and corn remover – preparations containing salicylic acid, including paint-on liquids and medicated pads, should be avoided except under professional supervision; especially by people with circulation problems caused by diabetes, for example. They may damage surrounding skin and cause infection.

Red light Plantar wart remover – like a corn and callus remover (above), wart remover can damage surrounding skin, causing infection. A common home remedy recommended by some medical professionals is coloured duct tape – cover the wart with a piece of duct tape 24 hours a day, six days a week, for six weeks. Non-medicated, doughnut-shape pads can help relieve pressure.

Orange light Foot files – used for scraping off hardened skin, they’re okay but go easy with them – don’t scrape until you bleed! A pumice stone is gentler.

Green light Moleskin – made of cotton flannel, with an adhesive backing, moleskin provides protection against friction that causes corns, calluses, bunions and blisters. It tends to stay in place better than band aids, even when wet from sweat, rain or puddles – it’s often recommended for running and hiking.

Red light Detox foot pads –stick-on patches that claim to absorb toxins from your body through your feet while you sleep. They don’t work!

Green light Foot powders – can help with smelly, sweaty feet, and tend to be better than sprays.

Orange light Orthotics – non-prescription orthotics are worth trying before you get fitted for prescription ones, which can cost hundreds of dollars. They may help provide support and cushioning for your feet which, in turn, may help with sore knees and back — although this isn’t backed up by studies. If you have fallen arches or flat feet, look for orthotics with arch support. For ongoing problems, consult a podiatrist.

Red light Magnetic ankle support – elastic bandages containing small magnets are safe to use, but there’s no convincing evidence these magnets offer any therapeutic benefit above and beyond the support from the bandage itself. Save your money and get the cheaper, magnet-less one.

Green light Heel balm – more than just a moisturiser for relieving dry, cracked heels, these often contain ingredients that exfoliate dead skin cells, leaving skin softer and smoother.

Know your experts

Podiatrists are allied-health professionals, dedicated to the diagnosis, treatment and rehabilitation of foot problems –including corns, bunions, ulcers, as well as lower limb biomechanical-related injuries and problems related to diabetes. Other services include gait analysis and prescribing orthotics. You don’t need a referral to see one, but some services attract a Medicare rebate – your GP can tell you if you qualify.

Orthopaedic surgeons specialise in musculoskeletal injuries and conditions (such as arthritis). Some go on to further specialise in foot and ankle surgery, and can also become members of the Australian Orthopaedic Foot & Ankle Society.

Pedorthists and orthotists prescribe and make orthotics.

Other allied health professionals that deal with foot, ankles and knees are physiotherapists, occupational therapists, chiropractors and osteopaths.
 
 

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Given that your child spends more than six hours a day in their school shoes, getting a good pair is important not only for their day-to-day comfort, but has also longer term consequences for their foot development. Ill-fitting school shoes can cause foot, knee and posture problems in adolescence and beyond.

At birth, babies have 22 soft, partially formed bones in their feet. By school age, the number of bones has increased to 45, and they start to harden and fuse through late childhood and adolescence. At this stage, ill-fitting shoes can interfere with the process, causing malformations in the completed bone set of 26 at the age of about 18. Even buying shoes too big – so the kids can “grow into them” – can cause problems by changing the way a child walks.

A good school shoe:
  • Is flexible, but supportive – it should bend enough at the toe end of the foot to accommodate normal flexing when walking, but not bend in half, and there should be some resistance if you try to twist it between the heel and toe.
  • Weighs about 250g – some are much heavier than this.
  • Has no more or no less than one thumb-width of space between the end of the big toe and the shoe.
  • Offers support for running and jumping on concrete and bitumen.
  • Doesn’t have to be expensive – a more expensive shoe may last all year, but your child may grow out of it first. For younger kids with fast-growing feet, there are plenty of cheaper options which still meet the above criteria.

Find the right sports shoes

The type of shoe you need will depend on the sport you’re using it for: running shoes and court shoes have different characteristics because of the different movements and forces involved. Running shoes are designed for running forwards, while court shoes are designed for more side-to-side movement.

Then there is your running motion, and whether you hit the ground heel-first or on the midfoot or toe first, and the degree of foot pronation (how much, if at all, your foot rolls inward). For more on shoes and pronation, see our Running shoes buying guide.

High-tech foot scanners and gait analysers can help determine the best shoe to suit your characteristics, but their usefulness is dependent upon the skills of the person interpreting the information.

Podiatrist Paul Bowles says most people need a stable sports shoe, and suggests the following tests to check for stability:
  • The back of the heel (the heel counter) should be firm where it connects to the shoe.
  • Running shoes should flex at the toe, but not in the middle, while court shoes should be stiff at the toes but flex in the middle.
  • Hold the heel and toe and try twisting the shoe – it should be fairly rigid.
  • The heel should be slightly raised compared to the front of the shoe.

Shoes designed to provide the feel of barefoot running wouldn’t meet these criteria. However, even though there’s no evidence they live up to claims of enhanced performance or preventing injuries, some people still prefer to run with them.

Buying shoes for ageing feet

As we age, our feet change too, with tendons and ligaments losing their elasticity and ability to ‘spring back’. This can result in feet gaining half a shoe size or more, as arches lower and the foot becomes flatter and longer, and perhaps also wider. We also lose the fat padding on the bottom of our feet, and by the age of 50 we’ve lost up to half the shock-absorbing ability of the foot pad.

  • Sturdy, well-cushioned shoes with a firm sole, low heel, soft upper and plenty of room in the toe box is the ideal for all feet, but especially older feet.
  • Make sure you get your feet remeasured when you buy, in case they’ve changed since last time.
  • Shop in the afternoon, when your feet are slightly bigger due to swelling.
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