18 Things Your Feet Say About Your Health

The state of your feet can yield unexpected clues to your overall health
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Want to make a simple, ten-second check on the state of your health? Sneak a peek at your feet.

"You can detect everything from diabetes to nutritional deficiencies just by examining the feet," says Jane Andersen, DPM, president of the American Association of Women Podiatrists and a spokeswoman for the American Podiatric Medical Association.

The lowly left and right provide plenty of insightful data: Together they contain a quarter of the body's bones, and each foot also has 33 joints; 100 tendons, muscles, and ligaments; and countless nerves and blood vessels that link all the way to the heart, spine, and brain.

Unresolved foot problems can have unexpected consequences. Untreated pain often leads a person to move less and gain weight, for example, or to shift balance in unnatural ways, increasing the chance of falling and breaking a bone.

So when the feet send one of these 18 warning messages, they mean business.

 

1. Red flag: Toenails with slightly sunken, spoon-shaped indentations

What it means: Anemia (iron deficiency) often shows up as an unnatural, concave or spoonlike shape to the toes' nail beds, especially in moderate-to-severe cases. It's caused by not having enough hemoglobin, an iron-rich protein in the blood cells that transports oxygen. Internal bleeding (such as an ulcer) or heavy menstrual periods can trigger anemia.

More clues: On fingers as well as toes, the skin and nail beds both appear pale. The nails may also be brittle, and feet may feel cold. Fatigue is the number-one sign of anemia, as are shortness of breath, dizziness when standing, and headache.

What to do: A complete blood count is usually used to diagnose anemia. A physical exam may pinpoint a cause. First-step treatments include iron supplements and dietary changes to add iron and vitamin C (which speeds iron absorption).


2. Red flag: Hairless feet or toes

What it means: Poor circulation, usually caused by vascular disease, can make hair disappear from the feet. When the heart loses the ability to pump enough blood to the extremities because of arteriosclerosis (commonly known as hardening of the arteries), the body has to prioritize its use. Hairy toes are, well, low on the totem pole.

More clues: The reduced blood supply also makes it hard to feel a pulse in the feet. (Check the top of the foot or the inside of the ankle.) When you stand, your feet may be bright red or dusky; when elevated, they immediately pale. The skin is shiny. People with poor circulation tend to already know they have a cardiovascular condition (such as heart disease or a carotid artery) yet may not realize they have circulation trouble.

What to do: Treating the underlying vascular issues can improve circulation. Toe hair seldom returns, but nobody complains much.

Clues your feet give about your health, 3-4

3. Red flag: Frequent foot cramping (charley horses)

What it means: The sudden stab of a foot cramp -- basically, the hard contraction of a muscle -- can be triggered by fleeting circumstances such as exercise or dehydration. But if it happens often, your diet may lack sufficient calcium, potassium, or magnesium. Pregnant women in the third trimester are especially vulnerable thanks to increased blood volume and reduced circulation to the feet.

More clues: Charley horses tend to rear up out of nowhere, often while you're just lying there. They can be a single sharp muscle spasm or come in waves. Either way, soreness can linger long afterward.

What to do: Try to flex the foot and massage the painful area. You may also be able to relax the muscle by applying a cold pack or rubbing alcohol. To prevent cramps, stretch your feet before you go to bed. Then drink a glass of warm milk (for the calcium).


4. Red flag: A sore that won't heal on the bottom of the 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.


about 1 month ago, said...

My feet get red & hurt on the bottom of both feet. What does this mean?


about 1 year ago, said...

I have burning and numbness in both feet It started about 2 years ago after surgery. I was on antibotics for a long time. I've had blood work done and am not diabetic. It would come and leave for awhile but now have all the time. Had feet x-ray last year and some warts removed but nothing else was done.


about 1 year ago, said...

#18 don't think insurance covers that cure.


about 1 year ago, said...

My 40 yr old daughter has very swollen feet and ankles. When you push a finger into any spot on her feet it stays indented. She has been checked for diabetes and told she does not have. Dr's say they don't know why it has happened. Any suggestions? She has to wear flip flops or extra large shoes.


over 1 year ago, said...

Feet turns red & nerve issues after an artery was harvested for a Heart bypass


over 1 year ago, said...

hair serving as connective threads to skin on the bottom of both feet Only visible after excess skin has been scraped off after show.Obvious once the removed skin begins to dry. Is this normal?


over 1 year ago, said...

The ball of my left foot feels lumpy when I walk it hurts. My left knee is also thribing.


over 1 year ago, said...

I lose complete feeling without any tingling or warning before a traumatic fall due to Peripheral neuropathy. No warning whatsoever. I Have 4 badly broken ribs; 3 completely in had. I've also had a traumatic hwas injury and a split lip requiring hospitalization. I am NOT a diabetic, and began 10 yrs ago when I nearly severed my spine. I should say this runs the n my paternal side of the family with my father, 3 of his siblings as well as all three children diagnosed


about 2 years ago, said...

It's good to know that my fungus-y toenails can be treated. I would hate to get that in my hands. I'd better ask doc about them before it spreads further.


about 2 years ago, said...

Very informative post. I recently had surgery on my right foot from Dr.Brady.He fixed up the issue and also used to make the process pain free.


over 2 years ago, said...

Many points made...some convinced me nothing was wrong, others made me aware of improvements I could make in foot care.


over 2 years ago, said...

Both my children have Hammer toes some which also slant to the right. How do I 'fix' these ? I'm afraid they may pose a problem and cause pain down the road. I have taken them to a podiatrist but all they say is that if it doesn't hurt, corrective surgery is not required!


almost 3 years ago, said...

I have dry cracked feet


about 3 years ago, said...

Very informative and loaded with practical hints and suggestions.


about 3 years ago, said...

I weaned off of prednisone 7 weeks ago. I began taking prednisone for PMR, at 13 mg a day. The first time I weaned off was 3 years later. I was off for 1 month, but then, PMR was back. I began 13 mg again, and weaned off this past April. The pain is awful, along with sleepless nights, I can no longer enjoy any exercises. I am stiff and have tender hands and fingers, and hip joint paint and knee and foot pain. I was taking Celebrex for the past 5 days with no relief. What can I do? I need help dealing with the pain and sleeplessness.


over 3 years ago, said...

This article helped me to understand my toenails and why certain areas of my feet hurt at times. Thank you for the info.


over 3 years ago, said...

Hi, i'm concerned about what my feet are telling me, it started around the angles, now it's on top of my feet just right below the toes, it looks like a rash, it's brown in color not real dark but enough to know it's there. there's no pain, except when i do a lot of walking then i'll wake up with cramps in them, but they'll go away the cramps. i've always been very active and hard on my poor feet. now getting older of course i feel a lot of things. thanks


over 3 years ago, said...

I know what I'm doing when I have my physical in Sept. A complete blood count.


over 3 years ago, said...

Regarding foot and leg pain, I too, had excruciating, long-lasting pain in these areas. I eliminated wheat and wheat products from my diet, including alcohol (which is made from grain), and within five days (or so), the pain was gone. Every time I think, 'Well, I'm sure a couple or pieces of wheat toast or a nip of grain alcohol can't hurt', the pain returns. I truly believe there is a direct connection between what's in my diet and the pains I suffered. Try it, and good luck!


over 3 years ago, said...

How about skin infections such as "Athletes Feet"?


over 3 years ago, said...

A great many things I did not know. I don't have the problems now, but it is important to be prepared if they do develop.


over 3 years ago, said...

I have to agree with everyone who suggested photos that portray the condition mentioned in the article. Not pictures of professional foot models! I could not connect the symptom with anything that I am familiar with, but seem to be suffering from achy feet quite often.


over 3 years ago, said...

It was very informative as I am a woman with hairy legs;feet & arms


over 3 years ago, said...

I am 75 and have had gout for many years with several acute attacks. I was a public music teacher and was always standing on concrete throughout the day and evening. Dancing and marching was good exercise and a big help. However when menopause came my feet seemed to collapse and the gout really became a problem. Much of the above information had already been absorbed. But there were some revelations and it never hurts to be reminded about routine observations. Also it is good to know when to ask a podiatrist. I have been under the care a of a podiatrist for thirty three years and have had a good pedorthist for twenty years. With the grace of God these people have kept me on my feet. Lots of prayer and meditation helps, too.


over 3 years ago, said...

Who says feet need support? They need support after being warped into useless lumps by the poor footwear that is ubiquitous nowadays.


over 3 years ago, said...

I have red toes -- the center toe on each foot is very red. There is a spot on each nail that is like a tiny dark dot. What can this be? There is nothing like it on this website that I can find.