Take a load off your feet

by Margo White / 03 January, 2013
It pays to be kind to the appendages that carry you through life.
Take a load off your feet

If, like most people, you’ve had a break recently, your feet should be enjoying a bit of breathing space. But being footloose doesn’t mean you should get too fancy-free. Our feet are complicated: each contains 26 bones and 100 ligaments, together they contain a quarter of all the bones in the body, and the skin of the feet has more than 7000 nerve endings. Our feet were designed to carry us through life. It pays to tread carefully. After months of living inside a shoe, slipping around on a rubber mat held on with a bit between our toes can have unwanted consequences. Most jandals don’t have any foot support, and even those that do oblige you to scrunch up your toes to hold the thing on. Your foot isn’t used to doing that, as aren’t those other parts of the body to which your feet are connected.

We take hundreds of steps a day, and cumulatively, every step counts. “Each step you take might be causing a little bit of trauma, but not enough to send a pain signal,” says Bruce Baxter, Christchurch- based podiatrist. But wearing jandals for long periods of time can cause a lingering pain that will be felt later on, often after we’ve gone back to work. The pain can turn up in the ball of the foot, the arch of the foot, in the heel, the ankle, the Achilles tendon and even the knee.

Baxter: “We don’t want to be anti-jandal, or anti-open footwear because we’re certainly not. But after being bound up in a shoe for months, it takes a bit of adaptation … often by the time you’ve adapted, the holiday is over.”

Jandals have their place: they will protect your feet from hot sand and from the fungal infections that are bound to be loitering in the communal showers at the camping ground. Mind you, fungi are everywhere, says Baxter. “If you knew how much fungi was around, you’d probably never step barefoot anywhere again. We all carry those fungal spores.”

Did you know we have more than 125,000 sweat glands on each foot, more than any other part of the body, and that our feet produce an eggcupful of sweat each day? And there’s nothing fungi like better than a hot, sweaty foot encased in a shoe.

If the skin of your foot has been affected by fungus, it’s easy to treat with over-the-counter products such as Lamisil. Things get tricky, however, if you let the infection spread to the toenails, which will thicken, turn yellow and look dreadful.

Tinctures are often promoted as a treatment for toenail infections, but they work in only a small proportion of cases, usually early on. Anti-viral drugs usually work, but you might need to take them for some time, and they are heavy-duty drugs with side effects.

Baxter says he and other podiatrists recently started using a novel treatment, which involves zapping the nails with a laser. The results have been very good, but at about $500 for each foot, the treatment isn’t cheap. Foot deodorants will help control foot sweats. Foot powders and/or stuffing your shoes with a paper towel or newspaper will absorb moisture and help stop bacteria and fungus growing.

Baxter says many podiatrists also use ultraviolet light to dispose of any determined bugs lingering in an infected shoe. Generally speaking, he recommends regularly changing footwear, wearing socks that are mostly cotton or wool, and wearing leather shoes (and sandals) that let your feet breathe.

The time of year when we kick off our shoes is also the time we are prone to cracked heels. If not tended to, they can develop into deep crevices, which hurt, and can open your feet up to all sorts of infections. Treat cracked heels by soaking them in water for 10 to 15 minutes, gently rubbing off the dead skin with a pumice stone, and moisturising. A thick, unscented cream containing glycerin and/or aloe is best.

If things don’t get better, think about a trip to a podiatrist, who will probably perform a similar (perhaps more refined) version of the above, and offer advice on better footwear, or heel-cups and insoles that can cushion your sorry feet.

Health briefs


The American Food and Drug Administration has approved the first influenza vaccine intended to protect against four strains of the virus, rather than the traditional three, according to a press release from GlaxoSmithKline (GSK). The vaccine, Fluarix Quadrivalent, will target two A strains and the B strain expected to be dominant, with coverage for a second B strain. It is one of two quadrivalent vaccines being developed; the other, made by Sanofi Pasteur, has not yet been approved.


A study in American Psychologist argues that obesity, which has doubled in the US since the 1980s, has happened too quickly to be explained by a change in the genome. We’re getting fatter because the gastrointestinal, sensory and brain-feeding mechanisms that developed during the past two million years were highly adaptive for ancestral hunter-gatherers living with a limited high-density food supply. In an “obesogenic” environment, that acquired brain-reward circuitry can overrule physiological inhibitory mechanisms that tell when we’ve had enough.


A study published in the official journal Pediatrics has found that two cups of cow’s milk a day was the right intake for children, enough to maintain body stores of iron and vitamin D – two of the most important nutrients in milk. More than that, however, resulted in a reduction in iron stores without adding to vitamin D levels.
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