Health Secrets Your Feet Wish They Could Tell You

If your feet could talk, they might say, "You berate my bunions, curse my achy heels, and pop my poor blisters. Enough!" Here's how to give your feet the TLC they deserve.

may 2015 aol health life of your feetSteve Vaccariello for Reader's Digest

Ignore the alarm clock. I’m so cozy snuggled between your hubby’s feet. They’re always warmer than I am. (A woman’s body draws more heat toward the core, the theory goes, which gives me and my friend on the left the shaft.) Your schedule is packed, and you’re going to be leaning on me for most of it. So please, just a few more minutes in bed.

Thanks for the Walk

Kudos for not skipping your morning workout, even though you’re running late (not my fault—the other extremity hit snooze). I appreciate that you’re serious about slimming down. Weighing as little as one pound more than your ideal weight can increase pressure in your hips, knees, and ankles by as much as eight pounds, which puts even more strain on me.

See, I wish you would appreciate that I have to orchestrate a complex network of 26 bones, nearly three dozen joints, and more than 100 muscles, tendons, and ligaments for every single step you take. It’s a high-pressure job that, frankly, you sometimes make harder without meaning to.

Thirty seconds. That’s all it would have taken for you to grab the new walking shoes you just bought. But in your rush, you opted for the old, ratty sneakers by the back door. I know you feel bad about tossing them, but believe me, I feel much worse wearing them. The sole is worn so thin that it stresses my bones and joints when you walk and leaves me vulnerable to getting hurt. Plus, I need the extra foam cushioning under my fat pad. That spot—the one you call the ball of your foot—is packed with mini fat-filled chambers that serve as shock absorbers. But it’s starting to thin as you get older. And those extra 20 pounds you’re trying to lose has sped up the process. After 50 years and walking about 75,000 miles (that’s like three times around Earth), I think I’ve earned the right to additional support.

Ahh. At least you remembered to rub me with antiperspirant first. Since I sweat a lot, a swipe on my sole (where all my 125,000 sweat glands reside) helps keep moisture and odor to a minimum. Don’t miss these 9 common feet problems and podiatrists’ simple solutions.

Give Me Some Space, Please!

Though you and I didn’t get off on the best, um, foot this morning, I’m loving the broccoli and low-fat cheese omelet you had for breakfast. The extra calcium in the dairy and veggie is important—your feet are home to a quarter of all the bones in your body. Plus, broccoli has anti-inflammatory properties. If eating it can help ease the burning sensation flaring up in me, go ahead and have it for lunch and dinner too.

The burning started a few months back. It’s a sign of Morton’s neuroma, in which the nerve between the bones of my third and fourth toes gets compressed, inflamed, and then enlarged. Your toes sometimes tingle and go numb when you walk, and the pain radiates through the balls of the feet. Part of the problem is that I was born without much of an arch, which can leave my toe joints a little less secure and irritate the nerve. Then you spent years wearing those high, pointy shoes to the office almost every day, squeezing my toe bones and nerves until they couldn’t take it anymore.

Since you wisely packed up the pumps a few years back (thank you, thank you, thank you), the inflammation is slowly dissipating. But it may take a little trial and error before we find the right shoes to stop it from getting worse. Like today: The heel is low, and the shoe is well cushioned, but the toe box is still too narrow, pinching the nerve and making it burn. Yesterday’s flats were plenty roomy, but the sole was too thin to offer any shock absorption. You can fit those flats with a pad from the drugstore—the extra cushioning takes pressure off the nerve to ease the neuroma pain.

If this shoe experimenting fails, the next step is to talk to my favorite person—your podiatrist—about treatments such as injecting me with a nerve block. The combo of a numbing medication and a steroid can sometimes help decrease inflammation.

Your afternoon meeting is long, which annoys you—but not me! After the pressure I’ve experienced all day, taking a load off feels good.

Do you mind uncrossing your legs though? It sometimes pinches the peroneal nerve along the knee, which can leave me temporarily numb. That “pins and needles” feeling you hate is the nerve regaining function. And do you have to slap me against the ground to help “wake me up” faster? Ouch.

flip flopsiStock/ThinkstockNo. More. Flip-Flops.

Your computer is shut down for the weekend, your heels are kicked off, and your favorite flip-flops are slipped on as we head out to pick up the last few things for your husband’s birthday party tomorrow. You know I’ll hoof it to get you to all the stores before they close. Your husband’s been a little down since he was diagnosed with diabetes, and I want to help you lift his spirits.

But these cheap plastic flip-flops are not cut out for an errand marathon. My toes have to over-grip to keep the shoe from flying off, which puts a lot of unnecessary stress on me. That pain you feel from ankle to inner arch? It’s my posterior tibial tendon cursing you. That tendon is one of my major supporting structures. Because I’m flat, it’s had to work extra hard your whole life to help you walk. It’s getting tired now and relies on arch support in your shoe to do its job. These flimsy flip-flops have nothing. Please save them for hanging out around the pool. And even better, replace these with a sturdier pair (pick one that can’t fold in half easily).

Alas, you push through my pain and even manage a stop for a new pair of shoes to match your party outfit for tomorrow. I’m glad you tried them on—you haven’t been a true size 8 in maybe a decade. Between your pregnancies, which loosened my ligaments, and years of weight bearing and wear and tear that weakened my tendons, I’m a tad bigger than I used to be. The half size up helps a lot.

Pamper Me, Please!

You head to the bathroom to shower before bed and find your husband sitting on the floor, using your compact mirror to examine his feet.

He’s been doing it every night since his diabetes diagnosis, and boy, are his feet grateful. Too much glucose in the blood can cause nerve damage and poor blood flow, so the smallest crack or cut could turn into an ulcer without prompt care, and result in … my worst nightmare. It’s a lot more common than you think. More than half of lower-limb amputations (excluding accidents) occur in adults with diabetes. So who cares that he’s using your makeup mirror, as long as he’s taking care of himself?

As for me, your new shoes for tomorrow are sling backs, and my heel is in no shape to reveal so much skin. Not only is it drier with age, but all that friction from your shoe makes the top layers of skin get thick and scaly.

The pumice stone you use in the shower is great to help remove excess skin cells. (Just remember to pumice in one direction—that creates a smoother surface than scrubbing back and forth, which splits the skin layers and causes them to grow back flaky and rough.) I actually prefer this be done at home rather than at the salon, where it can be a little brisk.

Ahhhhh. Thank you for slathering on foot cream as soon as I stepped out of the shower, especially the one with urea and lactic acid. They’re strong enough to penetrate my thick skin and bring out my softer side.

The thick nail on my big toe, however, can’t be helped much. It stems in part from your years in high heels, which stressed and damaged the nail so that it now grows in thicker. The best way to trim it is straight across and not too short—and polish goes a long way.

Finally, you’re ready for some beauty sleep. You slip some socks on to keep me cozy. Smart move: This should help you get a few extra winks. When I’m warm, my blood vessels dilate, which allows heat to redistribute throughout your body. That helps you fall asleep faster and gives me more time to rest my weary toes so I’m ready to put my best foot forward.

EXPERTS: Jamal Ahmad, MD, orthopedic foot and ankle surgeon, Rothman Institute in Philadelphia; Christopher E. Hubbard, MD, chief of foot and ankle surgery, Department of Orthopedic Surgery at Mount Sinai Beth Israel in New York City; M. Joel Morse, DPM, president of the American Society of Podiatric Dermatology; Jacqueline M. Sutera, DPM, City Podiatry in New York City

Popular Videos

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest

Teresa Dumain
Teresa Dumain is a NYC-based writer who has been covering health and wellness for nearly 20 years for a variety of publications and websites, including Reader’s Digest, WebMD,, Real Simple, and the Leaf (Nutrisystem’s official weight loss blog). Her work has also appeared in Shape, Prevention, Every Day with Rachael Ray, Dr. Oz The Good Life, and; and she has written for The Doctors, a nationally syndicated TV show. She earned a BA in Communications and English from James Madison University.