Summer feet

BLOOMINGTON — Summer is a great time to be more physically active outdoors but don't take for granted the part of your body that makes it all possible.

Your feet.

"Injuries (to the feet) are very prevalent in nice weather," said Dr. Carl Cortese, a podiatrist with Cortese Foot and Ankle Clinic in Normal, Pontiac and Clinton.

"This time of year, people get outside and get active again, running and walking, which can result in sprains, strains, stress fractures, foreign bodies on the bottom of the feet and heel pain from wearing flip flops that don't provide enough support," said Dr. Marc Leonard, a podiatrist with OSF HealthCare Medical Group in Bloomington and Pontiac.

It doesn't have to be that way.

"Foot pain is not normal," Leonard said. "If you're in pain, seek help."

"We encourage people to get out, be active and enjoy the outdoors but to use common sense," Leonard said.

What follows are common summer foot mistakes, potential complications and ways that people can reduce their risk:

Too much too soon

Many Central Illinoisans like to return to jogging, bicycling, tennis and golf when the weather gets warmer. The problem is some do too much too soon.

"We see this with runners especially," Cortese said. "They don't build up gradually."

The results can be bursitis (foot pain from added pressure and rubbing), plantar fasciitis (inflammation of the band of tissue that runs from the heel along the arch of the foot), tendonitis (inflammation of an overworked tendon), sprained ankles and stress fractures.

Cortese encourages people who are new to long-distance walking or running or have been away from them for awhile to begin walking for 15 minutes a day, then each week add five minutes. Gradually increase your speed.

Leonard said "We want to see people doing activities with a gradual progression."

Improper shoes

"Seventy-five to 80 percent of foot problems are caused by improper shoes," Cortese said. That means wearing the wrong-size shoe, an old shoe that no longer offers support or the wrong shoe for the activity being performed.

An ill-fitting shoe or improper shoe for the activity can result in several problems, including plantar fasciitis, blisters, calluses or corns (thickened skin caused by rubbing or excess pressure).

When shopping for a pair of shoes, make sure they don't bend easily at the toes, twist easily or collapse in the back, Cortese said.

"You need support in those areas and support in the arch," he said. Shoes should be made of leather, which breathes.

"Shoes made of fabricated products make your feet sweat," he explained. Too much sweating can lead to fungus.

Buy a shoe appropriate to your activity.

For example, runners need shoes with good shock absorbency and a firm heel to help the body absorb the shock of hitting the ground; a studded sole to grip the ground; a buildup inside the shoe for arch support and to reduce the risk of shin splints; a flexible mid-sole for help with uneven terrain; a well-padded tongue and high-rounded toe box so toes won't blister; and padding at the heel to reduce the risk of Achilles' tendon.

Improper socks

Wool or cotton socks absorb moisture. When your foot is perspiring during and after an activity, if socks and shoes aren't changed, the warm, moist environment can be a breeding ground for fungus. Athletes' feet (a fungal infection of the skin), nail fungus and foot odor can result.

Buy socks made of fabric that wick away moisture, Leonard suggested.

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And, following your activity, shower and change your socks and shoes, the podiatrists said.

Dirty shoes

Some people don't clean the sweaty, dirty shoes they wear for yard work and keep them in their dark garage or basement, Cortese observed. Soon, fungus grows. When the shoes are put back on — especially if they're worn without socks — foot and toenail fungus can result.

Worse yet, if there's a spider in the shoes, you're at risk of a bite, and if there's a pebble in the shoes, you're at risk of foot irritation.

"Always shake your shoes before you put them back on," Cortese advised.

Always wear socks to provide a protective barrier between your shoes and your skin.

And wash your yard shoes when they're dirty. They can go in the washing machine and then let them dry in the sun, Cortese said.

When they're not dirty enough to wash, spray them with anti-fungal spray.

If you want to keep your yard shoes in the garage or basement, store them on a shelf instead of on the floor, Cortese suggested.

Going barefoot

Some people go barefoot this time of year, enjoying feeling grass or sand between their toes.

Risk are being bitten by a spider or tick or being cut by a sharp piece of wood, a nail or glass.

Sometimes, bites and cuts can lead to infections. These are potentially serious among people with diabetes, peripheral neuropathy or peripheral arterial disease because they may not feel the bottoms of their feet.

Going barefoot on the beach can result in sunburn.

If you don't want to wear shoes, instead of going barefoot, wear sandals or flip flops in the yard and water shoes or flip flops on the beach.

Some people also go barefoot on public pool decks, locker rooms, at spray parks and water parks. The humidity combined with the variety of people who use these areas mean some floors may have fungal growth. Risks are fungal infections and viruses which cause warts.

Wear good flip flops or water shoes instead.

Wearing cheap flip flops

Cheap flip flops provide no traction, the back part doesn't flip up and it's easy to walk out of them, meaning the wearer is at risk of tripping, Cortese said. In addition, because cheap flip flops offer no support, wearers are at risk of a ligament strain, heel pain and plantar fasciitis.

"Cheap flip flops can lead to significant pain and discomfort," Leonard said.

Cortese recommends better flip flops which have traction, arch support and are firmer than the cheaper varieties.

"Spending the extra money is worthwhile," Cortese said.

Forgetting sunscreen

Many people spending a day on the beach are good about applying sunscreen but forget to apply it to the tops of their feet, Cortese noted. Painful sunburn can result.

When applying sunscreen, cover all of your exposed skin, including the tops of your feet, he said.


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