PR piece for Nextstep Foot and Ankle, published in BND’s Lifestyle Section in June, 2013.

Local Podiatrist Offers Steps You Can Take To Ensure a Safe and Active Summer

A few summers ago, Kristy Meyer of Clinton County headed to the river with her family in search of relaxation and fun in the sun. But what she came away with was a lot worse.

“I wore my flip-flops into the water,” said Meyer. “I slipped and my second toe got pulled out of place. I ended up having to see a doctor because of terrible pain that radiated up to my leg and hip.”

Meyer learned an important lesson and now only wears flip-flops on dry surfaces. But chances are that hundreds of other people will experience some kind of mishap this summer as they expose their feet to open air.

Dr. Krista Nelson, a podiatrist at Next Step Foot and Ankle Center in Edwardsville, said she treats many patients who contract painful conditions and infections throughout the warmer months.

“We’re seeing an increase in complaints about pain on the bottoms of people’s feet, many of them due to unsupportive footwear, “said Dr. Nelson. “We also see a lot of fungal problems this time of year as people go into salons and near water more often.”

No one is expected to keep their feet covered all summer, but they can take precautions to avoid painful and unsightly problems that may keep them from enjoying the great outdoors.

Wear the Right Shoes

Flip-flops are a summer staple, but they shouldn’t be worn for long periods of time. In fact, according to Dr. Nelson, the only place they really belong is on the deck or a beach.

“Typical flip-flops don’t offer any arch support, so if you’re walking in them a lot, you’re putting stress on the bottoms of your feet,” she said. “That can lead to plantar fasciitis, a condition that can cause shooting pains in your heels from the ligament being inflamed.”

A better alternative is a supportive shoe such as Birkenstocks, or a flip-flop style shoe with built in arch support. The less you can bend a shoe, the more supportive it generally is.

And although we all know that high heels aren’t that comfortable, many of us insist on wearing them out because they make our legs look great. But Dr. Nelson said that good looks are sometimes not worth the extensive damage heels can cause to women’s feet.

“A very high heel puts so much pressure on the ball of the foot, and can lead to bunions and hammertoes in a predisposed patient,” she said. “If you want to wear them, it’s best to stick with something that has a wide toe box, and with a heel of two inches or shorter.”

Find a Safe Salon

None of us want to have ugly toes when it comes time to strap on sandals, but if you plan to get a pedicure, you should know what to look for to prevent one of the many infections women contract each year at salons.

“It may not be the most comfortable thing to do, but asking questions to your nail tech can help prevent you from getting infected,” said Dr. Nelson. “Are they licensed? How often do they change the footbath water? What do they disinfect their instruments with?”

After each client, tools should be soaked in CaviCide or a similar cleaner, and footbaths should be drained and disinfected as well. You should never allow a pedicurist to use sharp tools, to cut corns or calluses, or to pull out ingrown toenails since they aren’t trained or licensed to do so. And while pushing back cuticles is okay, they should never be clipped since their purpose is to prevent bacteria from getting under your nail.

“If you have any open cuts or sores, you should avoid pedicures all together, especially if you’re diabetic,” said Dr. Nelson. “Because even if you think a place is clean, you can never be sure.”

Between pedicures, make sure to examine your toenails without paint on them. If they’re yellow or thick and rigid, they may be infected.

Be Cautious Near Water

Before you kick off your shoes at the public pool, think about the fungus and bacteria that lurk in warm, wet places. If you have to walk through a shower room, keep your shoes on. Moist floors and puddles are perfect breeding grounds for fungus that’s waiting to latch onto the bottoms of your feet.

“Athlete’s Foot and plantar warts are highly contagious, so you don’t want to risk stepping in the same puddle as the person before you who might have had them,” said Dr. Nelson.

When it’s time to get out of the pool, dry your feet thoroughly with a clean towel so fungi don’t stand a chance of growing on them.

If you do notice itchy, scaly feet and your heels start to crack, you may have contracted Athlete’s Foot. Be sure to see a podiatrist who can treat you before you spread it to others.

Meyer found out the hard way that it’s best to wear water shoes into a river or lake to have something to prevent her from slipping. Wearing shoes can also protect your feet from getting cut on sharp rocks.

“If you do have any cuts or scrapes, avoid going into river or lake water all together,” said Dr. Nelson. “The bacteria in there can be very harmful and lead to dangerous infections.”

Allow yourself to enjoy the classic little luxuries of the warmest season, like feeling sand between your toes and running barefoot in the grass. Just be aware of your surroundings and you’ll be ready to jump into summer feet first.