Toe The Line

When going barefoot don’t let these unsightly problems keep you in shoes.

1. Hammertoe

The middle joint of one or more toes bends due to an imbalance between the muscles and tendons that hold it straight, says William Fishco DPM, a Phoenix podiatrist. Over time the tendons tighten up and the toes become stuck in a bent position.

PREVENT IT Make sure you have about a thumb’s width of space between your longest toe and your shoe.

FIX IT Hammertoes can become painful and require surgery, but you may be able to avoid the scalpel if you keep the tendons loose with foot exercises. Lay a towel on the floor and pick it up using your toes. Then drop it and repeat.


2. Ingrown toenail

A jagged or curved toenail edge punctures the underlying skin and grows downward, says Joel J Heidelbaugh MD, a professor of family medicine at the University of Michigan. This can lead to infection.

PREVENT IT Cut your toenails in a straight line. File the sharp edges.

FIX IT Soak the foot in soapy water for 15 minutes a day to soften the nail, and apply an antibiotic ointment. If needed, have a doctor separate the nail from the skin.


3. Bunion

If your big toe is misaligned (possibly from flat feet or a family history of bunions), it can swing toward the other toes, says J Kent Ellington MD, an ortho pedic surgeon based in North Carolina. As a result, the joint that holds your toe loses alignment and bulges out—resulting in a bump called a bunion.

PREVENT IT Don’t cram your toes into pointed dress shoes; they should fit comfortably.

FIX IT If you notice that your big toe is angled or your joint is forming a bump, try toe spacers to keep your big toe pointing straight.


4. Athlete’s foot

You can catch this fungus by going barefoot on an infected surface.

PREVENT IT Dry your feet after swimming and wash them immediately after playing sports. Wear socks if someone at home is infected, and wear sandals in communal areas (such as showers), says Mahmoud Ghannoum, director of the centre for medical mycology at Case Western Reserve University.

FIX IT Ghannoum recommends applying a cream containing an antifungal such as terbinafine every day for a week or two. —JULIE STEWART


5. Plantar wart

The human papillomavirus invades, caus ing an inward-growing wart. Warning signs: (1) black specks, (2) pain when you press from side to side, and (3) a disruption of the fingerprint-like lines across your sole, says New Jersey podiatric surgeon George F Wallace DPM.

PREVENT IT Viruses thrive on moist, warm surfaces, such as swimming pool decks. Dr Wallace suggests wearing sandals until the minute you step in for a dip, and then putting them back on as soon as you step out.

FIX IT Start with an over-the-counter product containing salicylic acid.



Illustration by Rami Niemi.