Protect Your Feet

Some foot problems are unavoidable as you age, but there are preventive measures you can take to stay out of the podiatrist's office.
Protect Your Feet
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CLEAN THEM: The foot has more than 250,000 sweat glands, and it's the mixture of moisture and bacteria that contributes to odor-and athlete's foot.

RX: Wash feet with soap and tepid water, using a washcloth or a wet pumice stone to remove dead skin. Dry between the toes. Add a few drops of geranium oil or tea tree oil (both of which have bacteria- killing properties) to your moisturizer and apply it to the top and bottom of the feet (not between the toes). If you sweat excessively, rub cornstarch into the soles of your feet before putting on shoes. Every week, gently run a wooden or rubber manicure stick under your nails to remove dirt, then push cuticles back using a rubber cuticle pusher and smooth nail edges by filing lightly in one direction.

BUY THE RIGHT SHOES: Uncomfortable shoes cause foot problems for 80 percent of American women, according to a recent poll by the APMA.

RX: Look for shoes that have ample room for your toes, good arch support, and feel comfortable (if you must wear heels, wear ones that are two inches or less to minimize damage to the foot). Shop at the middle or end of the day when your feet are at their largest. Get your feet measured each time since your size can change as your feet get longer and wider with age, and when you buy different types and brands of shoes. (Experts say an athletic shoe should be a full size larger than a dress shoe.) Always try on shoes wearing the kinds of socks or stockings you'll usually wear with them. Test shoes by standing on one foot at a time, wiggling your toes (to be sure there is enough room), and by walking briskly in the store for at least five minutes. "When you stand in a running shoe, you should have a full finger's width in front of your longest toe," says Marc Klein, D.P.M., a podiatrist in Boca Raton, Fla. That extra room will prevent cramping and jarring during forward and side-to-side movements. Make sure the shoes fit before you buy them. "Don't think you can 'break in' shoes," warns Klein.

AVOID UNSANITARY SALONS: In 2000, more than 100 customers in California contracted serious bacterial infections that were traced to dirty filter screens in whirlpool foot spas. California has since adopted stricter sanitation guidelines for nail salons and other spas. Although experts say infections of this type are rare, the spread of warts, athlete's foot, and nail fungus are much more common, so take precautions.

RX: "Schedule your appointment for first thing in the morning to decrease the likelihood of catching an infection from a previous client. Make sure instruments are soaking in a disinfectant and that basins have been sanitized," says Georgeanne Botek, D.P.M., an orthopaedic surgeon at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio. Use your own pedicure kit (visit or for readymade versions) and flip-flops. Don't let the pedicurist use a razor or pumice stone: Bacteria and fungi are easily transferred this way. The pedicurist should trim your toenails straight across-angling or trimming them deeply on the sides increases the likelihood of an ingrown nail and infection.