WHAT ARE YOUR FEET TRYING TO TELL YOU?
From diabetes to diet problems, your feet can reveal a lot about your physical and emotional health, reveals Astha Gupta
Temperature: Check. Weight: Check. Blood pressure: Check. Feet... When did you last check in with your feet? They literally carry us everywhere, but being furthest from our eyes means they’re also often furthest from our mind.
However, the nerves and blood vessels in your feet link to your brain, heart and spine, and therefore mirror your body, so a peek at your toes could tell you if you need to head to the doctor or just slightly alter your daily routine. The next time you think ‘my feet are killing me’, stop and pay attention – they may just need a little TLC or they may be trying to tell you to check in with your GP. Here’s what a look at your tootsies might reveal.
1 YELLOW OR BLUE TOENAILS
“The natural colour of your toenails is an important tool in a health check,” Bodell says. “Any discolouration could be cosmetic (such as an overuse of nail polish) or more serious.”
Yellow toenails generally point to an infection. Most of the time it’s a fungal infection, but it can be a sign of other infections such as sinusitis. Yellow nails can also occur alongside psoriasis or hypothyroidism. In rare cases, they can be a sign of yellow nail syndrome, which also causes swelling and fluid in the lungs.
Pale toenails might mean a lack of nutrition or anaemia, while blueish ones suggests reduced blood flow. “Questions to ask are: Do you have enough oxygen in your body and are your heart and lungs functioning properly?” says Bodell.
Meanwhile, a dark line under your toenails could be an easy-to-fix fungal infection or something more sinister like a melanoma. And if your toenails crack easily, it’s worth asking your GP for a thyroid check.
2 NOT HAIRY ENOUGH
No-one likes to be Hobbit-level hairy but even the tiny hairs on your toes provide useful health information. “We’re all born with hair on our toes, and a gradual loss is a sign of poor circulation,” says Charlotte Bodell, spokesperson for the Australian Podiatry Association. “It can occur when the heart is unable to pump blood to the extremities properly or can be a sign of a narrowing of the peripheral arteries.”
3 FEEL ICY
‘Getting cold feet’ may be an everyday phrase, but having constantly frigid tootsies points to poor circulation.
“Since feet aren’t viewed as vital organs for the body’s survival, if it’s cold, the body adjusts the circulatory system to move blood towards the vital internal organs, leaving the feet cold,” says Dr Ryan Harvey, of Queensland GP service House Call Doctor.
“If your feet continue to feel cold when they’re rugged up, it may be a sign of vascular disease or diabetes.”
4 NUMB TO TOUCH
Numb feet are a common side-effect of chemotherapy, however, if you haven’t had the cancer treatment and your feet start to go to sleep unexpectedly, with the numbness lasting for a long duration, it could be due to a temporary compressing of the nerves that run to your legs and feet. This results in that dead-leg feeling you experience after sitting a certain way for an extended period.
“Pathological causes of numb feet are many and varied but one of the most common is diabetes, which can damage the nerve supply to your feet, resulting in numbness,” Harvey says.
5 DRY, FLAKY SKIN
If your feet remain dry despite your moisturising routine, it could mean your thyroid isn’t functioning properly and it’s worth raising with your GP. However, if you notice the skin on your feet, especially between the toes, is unusually dry, flaky and itchy, a fungal infection could be to blame.
6 SMELLY FEET
Everyone experiences stinky feet at one time or another, and it’s normal for feet to perspire, especially when you realise they have a quarter of a million sweat glands. When shoes and socks are worn and the atmosphere is warm and moist, it encourages the growth of the existing
bacteria, creating the smell. You can reduce the whiff by applying foot and shoe deodoriser, and washing your shoe insoles on a regular basis.
Cramping is relatively harmless but for those few minutes when it occurs, it can take your breath away. “If your calves or balls of your feet are cramping, you might have a nutritional deficiency, like a lack of sodium, potassium or magnesium,” Bodell says. Spasms could also occur if you’ve overexerted yourself, not stretched enough before exercising or you’ve been wearing ill-fitting shoes.
8 ENLARGED BIG TOE
If your big toe suddenly becomes enlarged, swollen and painful, it could be a bacterial or fungal infection or an ingrown toenail.
Another possibility is an acute gout attack, Harvey says. The big toe is the coldest part of the body and often shows the first signs of gout or arthritis.
9 SWOLLEN OR SORE FEET
Swelling and/or pain in your feet as well as other joints can be one of the first signs of rheumatoid arthritis. A study in the Journal of Foot and Ankle Research revealed that 50 per cent of people with rheumatoid arthritis in the UK had reported foot pain symptoms at diagnosis, and early foot health intervention can go a long way in helping to manage the condition. Swollen feet can be the result of a long flight, hot weather or pregnancy, but Harvey says it can also occur due to “a build up of fluid in your tissues due to a lack of movement, circulatory problems or kidney and liver issues”.
10 SORES GALORE
If you have sores that don’t heal over time, try to keep your feet dry to give the wound a chance to repair itself, and cut down on booze and smoking. Also ask your GP to check your blood sugar levels as hard-to-heal sores can be a sign of diabetes.