Feet@TheClinic, High Street Chambers, 25 High Street, Loughborough, Leicestershire, LE11 2PZ

What Your Feet Can Tell You About Your Health

We all know that our outer body is a window to our inner health. We check ourselves in the mirror many times each day. Our outer body is often giving us early warning signals, signals we should pay credence to. We notice any erroneous signs, and where necessary we deal with anything that may be a problematic issue.

The skin is the body’s largest organ, as such there is much it can tell us. Our face and hands are probably the most common source of us noticing any warning signals. But this is largely due to the fact that these are the parts of the body that we are most visually aware of. Very often other warning signals can be overlooked, simply because we pay less attention to other parts of our bodies.

The hardest working parts of our body are the hands and feet. Our hands are almost permanently in our eye line, so we are likely to notice any changes in the skin’s appearance very early. However, our feet are all too often neglected. Our feet are often covered up and are rarely in our direct eye line, so warning signals can go unnoticed. However, there is much our feet can tell us about our inner health.

Feet with Dry Flaky Skin

Dry flaky skin on the heels and balls of the feet are very common. There can be numerous reasons for this. Different people have different skin types, some people’s skin will be more sensitive than others. Dry and flaky skin can be caused by something as simple as a reaction to certain soap products. Equally, it may simply be down to lifestyle.

Diabetics are far more prone to dry and flaky skin on the feet, it can also be a sign of a thyroid problem. Your metabolism is controlled by your thyroid gland, which also promotes the growth of skin tissue. If the thyroid gland’s functions are defective, then dry and flaky skin on the feet are very common. These symptoms are not overly problematic and can be easily treated by your local foot health practitioner (FHP).

An Enlarged and Painful Big Toe

As people age, many experience a swelling of the big toe with considerable discomfort. Your local FHP will recognize these symptoms, and where necessary, recommend you consult your general practitioner. It is very likely to be gout. This is a common affliction affecting up to 1 in 40 people in the UK. Men over the age of 30, and post-menopausal women, are the largest group of sufferers.

Gout is in fact a form of arthritis which affects the joint of the big toe. This is triggered by a rise in uric acid in the body. Uric acid is normally excreted by the body through urine. However, if there is excessive production of uric acid, or an inability to fully expunge it through normal urination, it can build up in the joint of the big toe, and sometimes the ankle.

The buildup of uric acid comes about through diet. Foods high in purine are the root cause of gout. This is a chemical compound found in fish, red meats and some forms of alcohol. Anti-inflammatory drugs can help to relieve the symptoms of gout, but to address the root cause, sufferers need to pay close attention to their diet and learn to avoid the trigger foods and drinks.

Small Red Lines Under the Toe Nails

Tiny red lines under the nails, known as splinter hemorrhages, are broken blood vessels. When your FHP spots these hemorrhages, they will enquire as to whether you have experienced any damage to the toes. This is likely to have been through an impact injury, such as dropping a heavy object on the foot. If that is not the case, they may recommend you visit your local doctor for a closer examination.

In some cases, splinter hemorrhages may be an indicator of endocarditis. This is an infection of the heart’s inner wall. Endocarditis is a symptom of a severely suppressed immune system. Diabetics, cancer sufferers and HIV patients are particularly at risk of this serious affliction.

Clubbing of the Toes

Clubbing can affect the toes and fingers. It is when the end of the digits and the nails become rounded. Nails may curve downwards, there may be a softening of the nail bed giving the impression that your nails are floating. Toes might appear reddened and feel warm.

Numerous diseases are associated with clubbing, although the exact link between clubbing and any particular disease is not fully understood. People suffering with lung cancer, cystic fibrosis, pulmonary fibrosis, bronchiectasis and asbestosis, all have an increased risk of being afflicted by clubbing. There are also many other diseases that are known to be associated with this disorder.

When clubbing is first noticed, and if the underlying cause is treated early, there is a chance that the clubbing effect can be reversed. If clubbing is ignored and its cause not diagnosed and treated, then the reversal of the condition is very unlikely.

Your local FHP is perfectly placed to spot any evidence of clubbing. Should they do so, they will certainly make you aware of it and recommend that you seek a diagnosis from your general practitioner.

Soars and Ulcers that Don’t Heal

Our feet often receive damage during our day to day life. It could be as simple as stubbing your foot on a hard object, ill-fitting footwear or having something dropped on your foot. Mostly, wounds will heal in time, sometimes with medical help. However, some people may find that minor injuries fail to heal, and perhaps become ulcerated. When this situation occurs, expert diagnosis is essential.

Never ignore wounds, sores or ulcers that won’t heal, this is a common indicator of diabetes. Diabetics suffer with reduced circulation, particularly to the feet and this restricts the healing process, of otherwise innocuous ailments. Statistically, diabetes is diagnosed via foot problems more than by any other symptoms. Your local FHP is aware of these facts, and they will advise anyone experiencing soars and ulcers that are not healing to see their local doctor for diagnosis.

Balding of the Toes

Most people, to some degree or another, have small hairs growing from the skin on their toes. If the small hairs on your toes suddenly disappear this is a signal of likely circulatory issues. Circulatory problems themselves, can point to pulmonary arterial disease (PAD). The symptoms of PAD are subtle but the disorder is easily diagnosed.

The pulse rate in the foot is a good indicator of a problem, as is an x-ray. X-rays can show if there is a hardening of the arteries in the foot. As podiatric surgeon Gary A. Pichney, said “If I take an X-ray of a foot, and I see a hardening of the arteries, 99 percent of the time, the same thing is happening in the heart’s blood vessels,”

As a regular visitor to your local foot health clinic, this is likely to be noticed by the professional eye. If you are not a regular client of your local foot health clinic, and you notice the loss of the small hairs on your toes, do not dismiss this as inconsequential and of no importance, it could be a subtle signal of something more serious.

Pitted Toe Nails

Pitting of the toenails is not uncommon. It is less common than pitting of the fingernails, but the medical world is not sure why this is the case. Pitting of the toenails may also appear as discoloration and misshaping of the nails. Causes of nail pitting are various, and can be difficult to ascertain. Psoriasis is known to be a common cause of nail pitting, as is alopecia and sarcoidosis. Numerous dermatological conditions can cause nail pitting along with nail separation and physical trauma.

In addition to these known conditions which increase the risk of nail pitting, there is a growing school of thought within the medical profession which says that vitamin D and zinc deficiencies may also be a cause. Treating nail pitting can be very difficult. Due to the difficulty in diagnosing and treating the condition, sufferers often choose to deal with the cosmetic effect of pitting through filing and filling. This is affordable and straight forward and can be administered by your local private FHP.

Toe Bunions

Bunions, medically referred to as “Hallux Valgus”, affect the big toe, with women being more susceptible to the condition than men. This is largely due to the style of women’s footwear. Narrow or tight shoes put pressure on the metatarsophalangeal joint (MTP). This exasperates the risk of the creation of bunions.

Bunions will manifest themselves as a red bump on the joint of the big toe. Usually this will be tender to the touch and cause pain when walking. Your local FHP can administer simple treatments to relieve the discomfort of bunions and may prescribe shoe inserts, or a toe splint to help to straighten the toe.

Ingrown Toenails

Ingrowing toenails are a very common complaint. These can occur due to nails having an excessive curve, being trimmed badly, toes being compressed or through injury. It is also thought that genetics may be a factor in having the condition.

Ingrown toenails can become very painful if left untreated. They can lead to bleeding and then further infection. Treated promptly, ingrown toenails can be corrected by your local FHP. Untreated, they may require surgery to correct the condition.

Morton’s Neuroma

Morton’s Neuroma may, or may not, be painful. The condition causes a thickening of tissue around a nerve in the ball of the foot. Women are far more likely to experience this than men. The main causes are tight, high heeled shoes or foot abnormalities in the foot or gait.

The condition can be helped by simply being more aware of your footwear, flat shoes which do not compress the foot should be the preferred option. Alternatively, foot pads and physical therapy can help in correcting the condition. Your FHP can advise you on the correct self-help therapy to alleviate the problem.

Listening to What Your Feet are Telling You

Being aware of your feet can tell you a lot about your health and lifestyle. Many foot health problems are easily treated, but the cause should be given equally as much attention. Foot health practitioners (FHP) deal with a plethora of ailments that are easily avoidable.

Vanity plays a large part in women’s foot ailments. Ill-fitting, tight and high heeled shoes are the most frequent cause of many common, and avoidable, conditions. Such conditions are usually treated without any problems, and with sound advice from your FHP, they should never return.

Other conditions may reveal a more serious problem, such as diabetes. The one thing you can be sure of is that your feet should not be ignored. They are a window to your overall health. Prevention is better than cure, in all circumstances. Your local FHP is well trained to, not only diagnose and treat foot conditions, but they have knowledge to help prevent you falling victim to many ailments.

They also have the expertise to suggest a further diagnosis from a doctor or specialist. They will do this if they feel there may be some underlying medical reason for an affliction. A FHP’s knowledge is equally as valuable as their expert treatments. Local clinics, such as Feet@theclinic, Loughborough, put great score in the awareness of foot condition with a person’s overall health. The importance of this should never be underestimated.


Rebekah Henning is a Foot Health Professional (FHP) who has gone through specialized training at The SMAE Institute based in Maidenhead. She is fully trained and qualified in both the theoretical and practical aspects of foot health and care to enable her to assess the condition of your feet and treat as appropriate, referring you if necessary. She provides routine foot care and maintenance for your feet using the latest procedures and techniques to ensure that you receive the best possible treatment. Her knowledge and skills are up to date by undertaking continual professional development and she is also a Member of the British Association of Foot Health Professionals (MAFHP) and a Member of the College of Foot Health Professionals (MCFHP).

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