Foot Care

The Feet Don't Lie - Top 10 Things Feet Can Say About Health

Many people don’t visit a podiatrist unless they have a foot problem, but there are several conditions and health signs that have to do with your feet that could also mean a lot more about your overall health. Just one foot exam can clue you in to various health concerns hat may have been otherwise overlooked.

Here, according to Phil Vasylli, a podistrist and inventor of Vionic with Orthaheel Technology™, are some of the most common problems and how to go about treating them:

1) Brittle toenails

What could be wrong: Vitamin deficiency

Brittle toenails can signify a lack of vitamin A and D, since vitamin D, along with calcium and magnesium, is the foundation for healthy nails. Lack of essential fatty acids can also cause inflammatory conditions around the nails, which in turn render nails weak and brittle. Some medical conditions responsible for causing nails to become weak and brittle also include Raynaud’s disease, hypothyroidism, lung conditions, tuberculosis, and Sjogren’s syndrome.

2) Disappearing hair on toes

What could be wrong: Poor circulation

Hair follicles don’t have enough circulation to remain intact so they slough off. Often it’s accompanied by a cool foot temperature. Poor circulation can also be heart related; a weak heart-pumping mechanism can cause circulatory issues.

What to do: Patients must see a vascular surgeon for evaluation.

3) Burning feet

What could be wrong: Neuropathy (numbness)

Neuropathy is a general term meaning nerve dysfunction. Causes include diabetes, vitamin deficiency, and side effects from medications. The first step is to determine the cause of the neuropathy. If no cause can be identified, this is called idiopathic peripheral neuropathy. Medications can be prescribed to decrease neuropathic pain and burning sensation.

4) Numbness

What could be wrong: Diabetes

Podiatrists perform various types of nerve testing to check a patient’s sharp and dull sensations. People with decreased sensation have a peripheral neuropathy, which may signal diabetes because high sugar impacts the nerves so they don’t function well. If you have neuropathy but good blood sugar checks levels, you may have a misaligned position of the foot where when weight is placed on the foot, it collapses. A nerve that runs along the side of the foot becomes stretched and eventually compressed and leads to losing nerve sensation there.

What to do: Custom orthotics, little inserts in shoes, helps correct the alignment.

5) Toes that tip up

What could be wrong: Lung, heart or gastrointestinal issues

It can be one toe or multiple and is usually a red flag for a pulmonary or lung disease, even lung cancer. It can also be a gastro issue, like Crohn’s disease or heart disease.

What to do: A primary care doctor needs to zero in on what’s going on with additional testing.

6) Shooting pain in your heel

What it means: Plantar fasciitis — inflammation of a band of connective tissue (fascia) running along the bottom (plantar) of the foot — is abnormal straining of the tissue beyond its normal extension.

More clues: The pain starts when you take your first steps in the morning and often intensifies as the day wears on. It’s usually concentrated in the heel (one or both) but can also be felt in the arch or in the back of the foot. Running and jumping a lot can cause it, but so can insufficient support. You’re at risk if you go barefoot a lot or wear old shoes or flimsy flip-flops, have gained weight, or walk a lot on hard surfaces.

What to do: If pain persists more than a few weeks or seems to worsen, have it evaluated by a podiatrist. Stick to low shoes with a strong supportive arch until you get further advice and treatment (which may include anti-inflammatory drugs and shoe inserts). Invest in supportive footwear that you can wear to save your feet and heal and prevent a plantar fasciitis and other problems.

7) A sore that won’t heal at the bottom of your foot

What it means: This is a major clue to diabetes. Elevated blood glucose levels lead to nerve damage in the feet — which means that minor scrapes, cuts, or irritations caused by pressure or friction often go unnoticed, especially by someone who’s unaware he has the disease. Untreated, these ulcers can lead to infection, even amputation. More clues: Oozing, foul-smelling cuts are especially suspect because they’ve probably been there awhile. Other symptoms of diabetes include persistent thirst, frequent urination, increased fatigue, blurry vision, extreme hunger, and weight loss.

What to do: Get the ulcer treated immediately and see a doctor for a diabetes evaluation. Diabetics need to inspect their feet daily (older people or the obese should have someone do this for them) and see a healthcare professional every three months.

8) Painful, red, swollen big toe

What could be wrong: Gout

Gout develops when there is a high amount of uric acid, usually from diet, whether it’s from drinking a lot of wine, or from cheeses, or red meat. Patients with gout are either overproducing or under-excreting uric acid.

What to do: Have your podiatrist inject the toe with cortisone to get the acute swelling down. Patients then eat a low-purine diet and take preventative medication.

9) Cramps or charley horse

What could be wrong: Dehydration, low potassium

Foot cramps and charley horses in the calf are usually a result of low potassium or dehydration.

What to do: If you have an issue with cramping of feet or legs, eat a banana before vigorous exercise and drink plenty of water before and after. Try stretching feet before sleeping.

10) Pitted toenails

What could be wrong: Psoriasis

In about half of all people with psoriasis, finger and toenails have tiny little holes like pits. More than three-fourths of those with psoriatic arthritis, a type of arthritis related to psoriasis that affects joints, also have pock-marked nails. Nails may also be thick, yellow or brownish. Your doctor can diagnose and treat psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis with medication, diet and lifestyle changes. Nails can sometimes be restored to normal if treatment is sought early.

Australian Podiatrist Phillip J. Vasyli has achieved ground-breaking research in lower-limb biomechanics and orthotic treatments. Successfully treating more than 50,000 patients, Phil founded three specialty clinics in Sydney and currently consults with clinics and practitioners across the globe. He is the inventor of heat-moldable, pre-fabricated orthotic, a less expensive, more efficient alternative to traditional orthotic treatment. Phil has also introduced the award-winning Orthaheel brand (now called VIONIC)  in 1991 in order to reach an even larger audience of people struggling with heel, knee and lower back pain, helping alleviate wear and tear to many parts of the body by realigning feet to their natural position. Orthaheel is available in more than 25 countries around the world and now includes over-the-counter orthotic footbeds, slippers, sandals and walking shoes. For more information, visit

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