When you think of your health, your feet are probably the last things that come to mind. But when you kick off your shoes and ‘bare your soles,’ your feet can be quite telling about your current state of health.
We rely on our feet to literally bear the brunt of our weight and take us wherever we want to go. Yet, as important as our feet are for our own personal mobility as pedestrians, we barely give them a thought until they are in pain from an injury or from breaking in a new pair of stilettos or running shoes. But take a closer look at your feet and watch for any abnormalities or signs of distress. Don’t ignore them because they may be trying to warn you of a more serious problem.
The appearance and condition of your feet can be surprisingly indicative of your current health status. Here are some things your feet may be saying about you:
- Swollen feet and/or ankles may be a sign of high blood pressure, circulatory issues, or problems with the cardiovascular system, kidneys, or liver.
- Frequently having cold feet may be due to a blood circulation, vascular, or thyroid problem. The thyroid is a vital gland that regulates your body temperature and metabolism—two vital functions for your survival. More women than men generally suffer from cold feet because women have a lower core body temperature than men.
- Wounds or sores on your feet that don’t ever seem to heal may be a sign of a blood sugar management issue. For healthy individuals, minor injuries like a stubbed toe or a foot blister will cause pain initially, but these wounds normally heal within a matter of days.
- Numb or tingling feet may indicate a diabetic condition. If you often have sensations of pins and needles in your feet, it may be due to a peripheral neuropathy, or damage to the system that transmits information to the brain and spinal cord. This may be related to a blood glucose problem, alcohol abuse or radiation therapy.
- Losing the hair on your toes or seeing changes in your toenails or skin color may be indicative of poor circulation, which could be a symptom of atherosclerosis (when plaque builds up in your arteries and causes poor or blocked blood flow to your feet and other parts of the body). If your toes used to be hairy and they are suddenly bare, you might think that is a good thing. However, it may be a cause for concern. Check for a pulse in your feet, and if it’s difficult to feel one, you may be due for a check-up.
- Cramps and/or spasms in your feet may signal a nutritional deficiency, physical exhaustion, dehydration or a more serious problem. You may not be getting enough calcium, potassium or magnesium in your daily diet, you may have been on your feet too long at work or at the gym, or you may not be drinking enough fluids. In rarer cases, foot cramps and spasms could be related to a brain or nerve problem.
- Sore joints in your toes and feet may signal a degenerative joint condition that often first shows up in the small joints in the hands and feet. Four times as many women than men suffer from arthritic joint conditions, which if left untreated could cause permanently deformed joints.
- Toes that turn upward may be a sign of a lung-related problem or other health issue.
- Pitted toenails may indicate psoriasis or an arthritic condition. If caught and treated early, this condition can be controlled.
- Dry, flaky, itchy skin on your feet is a sign of a foot fungus called Athlete’s Foot. If untreated, the flaky skin irritation can lead to inflammation and painful blisters, and it could spread to other parts of the body.
- Aching, sore feet on a regular basis could be a sign that you need to lose a few pounds. The heavier you are, the more pressure you put on your feet, and the more prone you are to suffer from foot pain. Sore feet may also be a sign of an arthritic condition or a stress fracture. The cause of stress fractures is often low-bone density, especially for women over the age of 50, or a vitamin D deficiency could be the culprit. If you suspect you have a stress fracture, you should seek medical attention.
- Pale, sunken toenails or spoon-shaped toenails may indicate anemia, a condition when there are a decreased number of red blood cells or low hemoglobin in the blood. Other symptoms of anemia may include feeling tired, irritable, short of breath and having difficulties with concentration. Making dietary changes and taking iron supplements are often recommended solutions.
You must keep your feet healthy in order to maintain your pain-free movement and mobility. If you experience any problems described above, don’t ignore them. Pay attention to what your feet (and other parts of your body) are telling you. They may be warning you of potential problems, and addressing any problems early on is your best course of action to keep your feet healthy.