You've heard it before, but it's worth repeating: Gym showers and locker-room floors are a big-time breeding ground for the fungus that causes athlete's foot, so be sure to wear flip flops or water shoes, says Casey Ann Pidich, DPM, an associate at Big Apple Foot & Ankle Care in New York City. Take extra care drying your feet too, working the towel in between your toes. By the same token, if you book a pedicure grab the first appointment of the day when the tubs are likely to be the cleanest.
Your feet can clue you in to your overall health.
For example, if the hair on your toes suddenly disappears and the skin on your feet gets thinner or shiner, peripheral arterial disease (PAD)—poor circulation caused by a buildup of plaque in the leg arteries—may be to blame, says Amanda Meszaros, DPM, a podiatrist in Oberlin, OH. PAD is a major red flag for heart problems or a stroke since clogged arteries in the legs are usually associated with blockages elsewhere in the body. Also look out for extremely dry skin and foot ulcers that don't heal; they may be triggered by undiagnosed diabetes since high blood glucose levels decrease sweat and oil production, points out Meszaros.
Pointy pumps are the worst.
Shoes that push the big toe into smaller toes set you up for bunions, bumps that form over the bone at the base of the big toe, says Pidich. The skin overlying the bunion may become red, irritated, and swollen, making walking painful. Your ideal high heels: ones with a wide toe box and heels under two inches.
The length of your toes is a big deal.
If your second toe is longer than your first toe (that's the case for an estimated 20 to 30% of Americans), you're at increased risk for bunions, hammer toes (ones that are bent downward), and even back problems due to how you distribute pressure throughout your body, says Robert F. Weiss, DPM, director of the Foot & Ankle Institute at Stamford Hospital in Connecticut. "All the weight should push off your first toe, but when the second one is longer, it rolls and flattens, causing all kind of foot problems," he explains. If you do have this condition (called Morton's Toe), talk to your podiatrist about the best kind of footwear for the shape of your feet, since ill-fitting shoes make the condition worse.
Toenail fungus is so stubborn.
If your toenails have started to discolor or are becoming thicker and more brittle, chances are fungus is to blame. "While nails clear up in time by taking antifungal pills, your risk of a reoccurrence is high so I recommend a topical cream to help prevent it," says Timothy Swartz, DPM, chief of podiatry of Kaiser Permanente Mid-Atlantic region. Keeping your foot dry—and changing out of sweaty socks—can help prevent the fungus, which thrives in warm, moist environments and can invade your skin through tiny cuts or the small separation between the nail and nail bed, from rearing its ugly head in the first place.
It's not your imagination: your feet really are getting bigger.
Even if you didn't put on weight, chances are you went up at least a half-size in the last decade. Feet become both longer and wider as you age because the tendons and ligaments that link tiny bones lose elasticity. Get your feet measured at least once a year so you know your true size, suggests Dr. Swartz. Wearing shoes that don't fit properly can cause more than discomfort—it can create or accelerate a bunion or cause blisters, among other issues.
Diabetics need to take special care of their feet.
If you have diabetes, check your feet daily for blisters, cuts, redness, and ulcers. If wounds are neglected you might get an infection, which could lead to serious consequences, including amputation. It's not rare: Every year, more than 70,000 Americans with diabetes lose a foot. "Diabetics who lose a foot have a 50 percent chance of dying within five years," warns Bradley A. Levitt, DPM, a podiatrist in Virginia Beach.
If you keep spraining your ankle, you're not a klutz.
Some people are just genetically pre-disposed to weak ankles, says Dr. Swartz. Strengthen your injury-prone ankles with these 3 moves.
You might not be lacing your sneakers right.
If you have high arches and get redness and pain on the top of your feet, skip the 2 middle holes in your lacing and loop them vertically on the sides of your shoes instead, suggests podiatrists at The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine in New York City. You'll lose a little stability but what you gain in comfort will make it worthwhile.
Use deodorant down there.
Yep, the same kind of roll-on that you apply to your armpits can help prevent the foul smells caused by the sweat glands in your feet.
MORE: 10 Things Your Feet Say About Your Health