There’s more to looking after your feet than wearing shoes and cutting your toenails. Foot conditions and injuries are common, and many health conditions affecting other parts of your body can also impact your feet.
What are the types of foot problems?
Common foot injuries
Ligament sprains (for example, ankle sprain) happen when joint ligaments stretch and tear causing pain and swelling, and limit walking. Mild sprains heal with rest, ice and elevation (keeping them off the ground). Severe sprains need medical attention.
Broken bones in the feet can be caused by trauma from a fall or sports injury.
Common foot conditions
- heel pain (for example, plantar fasciitis) caused by poor shoes, flat feet or walking on hard surfaces
- bunions that occur because your toes and feet change shape, causing skin damage and pain while walking and wearing shoes
- warts on the sole, heel or toes, which appear as a white area of skin with tiny black dots in the centre
- tinea (also known as athlete's foot), an infection of the skin characterised by a red, itchy rash or peeling of the skin, especially between the toes
- corns and calluses due to pressure from footwear or walking, often found on the tops of the toes, balls of the feet and heels
- ingrown toenails on any toe, but most commonly the big toe
There are many other skin conditions and toenail problems (including fungal or thickened toenails) that need regular foot care and advice from a health professional (see ‘Foot care specialists’, below).
What illnesses can affect the feet?
Some illnesses that affect the whole body can cause particular changes in your feet.
Diabetes can damage the nerves in your feet, reduce blood flow and increase the risk of infection. In extreme cases, this might lead to foot ulcers, and possibly amputation if the ulcers and infection don’t heal.
Poor blood flow to the feet can cause skin changes, coldness, brittle toenails and pain when walking or resting. Circulation problems in the legs and feet might also indicate a risk of heart disease and stroke.
Arthritis, including osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and gout, can damage the joints of the feet, causing deformity and pain in affected areas.
How does ageing affect the feet?
As you get older, the fatty cushioning under the heels and balls of your feet gets thinner, and your skin loses its elasticity and strength. Toenails become thicker and tougher, making them harder to cut.
Bone deformities, such as bunions and arthritis, can lead to foot health issues like pain, corns and calluses, and they might increase your risk of falls.
Foot care specialists
Podiatrists are university-trained health professionals who treat medical conditions of the feet and lower legs. They work in private clinics, community health services or public hospitals.
Other health professionals, such as orthopaedic surgeons and physiotherapists, can help with problems of the muscles and bones of your feet and ankles. You may need a referral from your GP to see these specialists.
Caring for your feet
A good daily foot health routine includes:
- washing and drying your feet
- checking for redness, swelling, cuts, pus, splinters or blisters
- moisturising skin
Cut toenails straight across, filing sharp edges. Avoid over-the-counter corn cures and tight socks or stockings.
If you notice a change or problem with your feet, seek help. If you can’t see clearly, ask a family member or carer to check your feet for you.
Make sure your shoes fit and suit the activity you are doing. Shoes should be the right length (1.5cm longer than your longest toe), width and depth.
Where to go for more help
To find a podiatrist, physiotherapist or orthopaedic surgeon near you, use the healthdirect service finder, or ask your GP.
If you have symptoms and are not sure what to do, use the healthdirect Symptom Checker.
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Last reviewed: May 2021