Rethink Flip-Flops? Ways to Keep Your Feet Healthy This Summer

Health Information Lifestyle

For the past few months, my feet have been sheathed in socks and slippers — like cave fish, hidden from the light. With summer around the corner, though, it’s time for them to emerge. In preparation, I carefully inspect every inch of my feet to ensure they are ready to show to the world.

But when I told Dr. Paul Greenberg, an assistant professor of orthopedic surgery at New York University’s Grossman School of Medicine, that I give my feet a thorough once-over every spring, he told me to step it up. Your feet should be examined daily, he said, because their condition can provide important warning signs about your overall health.

Suddenly swollen feet can indicate high blood pressure, said Dr. Kirk Geter, the chief of podiatry at Howard University Hospital. Swelling can also be a sign of gout or kidney problems, Dr. Geter added, while tingling and numbness in the feet can indicate diabetes.

So each day, you should inspect the bottoms and tops of your feet — as well as between your toes — and wiggle your toes around, Dr. Geter said. Look for cracks in the skin, redness, changes in nail color, numbness, sores that won’t heal and swelling, he said.

“And if something doesn’t feel right or look right, then you probably need to get it checked out,” he added.

Here are a few summer-specific ways to keep your feet healthy.

Most flip-flops offer little to no arch, heel and ankle support, said Dr. Stephanie Wu, a professor at the Dr. William M. Scholl College of Podiatric Medicine at Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science in Chicago. Wearing them can exacerbate many foot conditions, such as arch pain and plantar fasciitis, an inflammation of the tight band of tissue on the bottom of the foot.

And, if you do wear flip-flops, don’t mow your lawn in them. Emergency room visits involving injuries “where people decide to mow their lawns wearing flip-flops, trip, and end up running the lawn mower over their foot” aren’t uncommon, Dr. Wu said.

Exposing our feet in summer makes them more prone to infection, Dr. Wu said. And public swimming areas and locker rooms are filled with microorganisms that thrive in warm, damp areas, she said, causing ailments such as athlete’s foot and plantar warts. She recommended wearing stable waterproof shoes in those areas.

And, as delightful as a barefoot walk on the beach can be, Dr. Geter (who has extracted sea urchin spikes and shells from patients’ feet) suggested donning water shoes.

There’s also the matter of hygiene. Even responsible sandal wearers can collect grime on the bottoms of their feet, Dr. Geter said, so clean your feet with an antibacterial wipe when you arrive home to kill pathogens.

When you’re applying sunscreen, make sure to slather your feet, said Dr. Rosemarie Ingleton, an assistant professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital. Just like skin on the rest of our body, she said, the tops of the feet and the soles are prone to sunburn and skin cancer.

According to the American Podiatric Medical Association, skin cancers can develop on any part of the feet, including under the toenail. So you should opt for at least 30 SPF sunscreen and remember to reapply often when you’re out in the sun.

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