Treat your feet: When should you see a podiatrist?

Your feet work hard all your round – so it’s important to keep them in tip-top shape.

They’re one of the most unloved, under-appreciated and hard-working parts of the human body.

A network of bones, nerves, muscles and blood vessels that Leonardo da Vinci described as “a masterpiece of engineering and a work of art”, feet are super multi-taskers, helping us walk, stand, balance and run.

The average person walks around 128,000km in their lifetime – that’s three times around the world.

Yet the Australian Podiatry Association’s 2020 Foot Health Survey reveals almost one in five of us don’t prioritise foot care, while 11 per cent don’t look after their feet at all.

“Your feet shouldn’t hurt and yet we’re more likely to put up with foot pain than pain in any other part of our body,” says Katrina Richards, podiatrist and Australian Podiatry Association Board president.

When to seek treatment for foot problems

According to the foot health survey the most common feet problems are warts, lack of feeling or numbness, fungal and nail infections, corns and calluses, and inflammation.

So, what’s normal and when you should check in with a podiatrist for medical help?

“The foot is subject to a lot of stress, which can lead to injuries,” says Dr Glen Whittaker, podiatrist and lecturer at La Trobe University.

“This can limit mobility and really affect your quality of life, so if you have persistent or sudden pain, or there’s a problem impacting your activity and stopping you from doing what you want to do, you should see a podiatrist.”

Some people hesitate to see a podiatrist but “it takes a lot to shock us”, Katrina says.

“So however bad you think it is – whether it’s for something significant or just to have your corns looked at or your toenails cut, a podiatrist will help,” she says.

Conditions such as arthritis, diabetes, nerve and circulatory disorders can show their initial symptoms in the feet, so foot ailments can be your first sign of more serious medical issues.

How shoes can hurt your feet

Both experts agree foot pain is all too often caused by shoes that don’t fit properly.

“Women will quite commonly see a podiatrist for corns and calluses caused by their shoes,” Katrina says.

“The shape of your shoe doesn’t always correlate with the shape of your foot. You might be thinking, ‘My shoe looks fabulous, it matches my outfit’ – but it doesn’t match your foot.”

Glen says wearing shoes that fit well is the best thing you can do for your feet.

“So look for function rather than fashion,” Glen says.

Katrina says if you wear sneakers, it is also important to make sure they are up to the job.

“We tend to wear them until they’re falling off our feet and all the cushioning, integrity and structure is gone,” she says.

Top ways to look after your feet this summer

Suddenly putting your tootsies on show in summer can be a daunting prospect.

“Particularly in Victoria, many people will be changing from being quite inactive to suddenly getting out and about outdoors, so take it easy and give your tissues time to adapt to those changes,” Glen says.

Katrina says podiatrists tend to see lots of cracked heels in summer, as people move into open footwear like thongs.

“So keep moisturising regularly,” Katrina says. “Try to avoid anything sharp and pointy for home DIY – a pumice stone is your safest bet.”

And if you’re out and about – whether it’s dancing at a party or getting back on the running track –  the experts advise taking it slowly to begin with, to avoid any Achilles tendon soreness.

So there you have it – give your lower limbs some love and you’ll have the world at your feet.

Written by Liz McGrath.