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Overview of Foot Problems

By

Kendrick Alan Whitney

, DPM, Temple University School of Podiatric Medicine

Last full review/revision Dec 2019| Content last modified Dec 2019
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Some foot problems start in the foot itself, for example, resulting from a foot injury. Problems can occur in any bone, joint, muscle, tendon, or ligament of the foot.

Foot and ankle fractures are fairly common.

Other foot problems result from disorders that affect many parts of the body, such as diabetes, gout, or other types of arthritis.

Discoloration of the toenails should always be evaluated by a doctor because it may be caused by certain disorders, including a fungal infection.

People who have diabetes or peripheral arterial disease (narrowing of the arteries that carry blood to the legs, arms, and possibly internal organs) should check their feet daily for signs of infection or ulcers and should have a doctor or foot doctor (podiatrist) check their feet at least twice a year (see Foot care).

Spotlight on Aging: Foot Problems in Older People

With aging, many changes occur in the feet:

  • Older people typically have less hair on their feet.

  • Brown discoloration (pigmentation) may occur in spots or patches.

  • The skin may become dry.

  • The toenails often become thicker and curved.

  • Fungal infections of the nails occur commonly.

  • The size of the feet may change.

The feet may actually become longer and wider because of changes in the ligaments and joints. A person with these types of changes may need to wear larger shoes. Therefore, feet should be measured periodically or when purchasing new shoes.

Also, feet can be damaged by a lifetime of poorly fitting shoes.

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Treatment

  • Footwear changes and orthoses

  • Injections of anesthetics and/or corticosteroids

  • Sometimes surgery

Many foot disorders are successfully treated by changing a person’s footwear, such as wearing different shoes or using inserts or other devices placed in the shoe that change the position or range of movement of the foot to relieve pressure on affected joints or painful areas (called orthotics or orthoses).

Injections of an anesthetic into the affected joint or painful area can often relieve pain and decrease muscle spasms so that joints can move more easily, and a corticosteroid may also be injected to decrease inflammation.

If these treatments are not successful, sometimes surgery is needed to improve joint alignment and function and relieve pain.

NOTE: This is the Consumer Version. DOCTORS: Click here for the Professional Version
Click here for the Professional Version
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