Betsy Wadland: Head-to-toe health

Betsy Wadland

It's all about the shoes. Need proof? Cinderella, Dorothy and Carrie Bradshaw ... I rest my case. I confess to having a weakness for shoes that are way too high and pointy, but also savor the summer months, when I can go barefoot a lot more often. Pedicurists are especially busy this time of year, as toes start to peek out from winter boots, fleece slippers and wool socks.

Taking good care of your feet is a great way to not only pamper yourself a little bit, but to keep yourself healthy from head to toe.

A whole list of unpleasant maladies, from eczema, blisters, fungus, cuts and even sunburn, can put a damper on this otherwise carefree time of year. There are a number of things you can do to keep your feet feeling and looking great:

- Heat and moisture can lead to irritation and fungal infection, so take time to wash and dry your feet thoroughly, several times a day if necessary. You can also use a good foot powder or corn starch to soak up excess moisture.

- Let your feet breathe in sport sandals or mesh shoes. Pools, beaches and hiking trails can hide lots of dangers to your feet like wood splinters, broken glass and sharp rocks, so they need to be protected. Make sure your shoes have good support, minimize slippage and maximize flexibility. Your shoes should be appropriate for the activity you are participating in. Don't wear flip flops out running.

- Don't forget the sunscreen. You're putting it on anyway, so remember to slather it on the tops of your feet.

- Avoid flip flops, except in the shower. They are cute but don't provide the support or protection your feet need.

- Keep your nails and feet well groomed by cutting your toenails straight across every 3 to 4 weeks and using a pumice stone in the shower (nothing metal or sharp).

- Give your feet a rest when they need it by soaking them in warm water and Epsom salts, putting your feet up at the end of the day or placing them on a warm water bottle in the morning to stimulate blood flow.

"People with diabetes are more prone to foot issues than everyone else," says Harriett Blau, BS, RN and a certified wound, ostomy and skin care nurse at the Natick (Mass.) VNA. Peripheral neuropathy, or numbness in the feet, is very common and makes diabetics susceptible to foot injury.

"They might not notice when a small rock has gotten into their shoe and a lot of damage can be done without them knowing it," she says.

Diabetics need to be especially vigilant about their feet in the summertime and Blau offers a few suggestions:

- Visit a podiatrist instead of the pedicurist. Their special training and expertise will prevent unintentional injury.

- Always wear shoes. In addition to cuts and scrapes, feet can easily get burned on hot sand and pavement.

- When your feet get wet, be sure to dry them off completely, especially in between your toes, to prevent chaffing and infection.

- Check your feet EVERY DAY. Use a mirror to see the soles of your feet or enlist the help of a family member.

This summer, invest some time in keeping your feet happy and you'll be on the road to head to toe health.

Betsy Wadland is Director of Development for the Natick (Mass.) VNA, a nonprofit health care organization providing home care to thousands of people throughout the region each year. For more information, call the VNA at 508-653-3081.