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HARD-WORKING FEET CAN USE PLENTY OF TLC.

Byline: Dru Wilson Colorado Springs Gazette

These dogs really are a human's best friend.

They carry us thousands of miles over all kinds of terrain with barely a whimper. We cram them into tight spaces, pound them unmercifully on pavement, chafe them, smother them, and generally never give them much thought until they hurt so bad we can't stand it.

These ``dogs'' are our feet.

``They really are miraculous things,'' says Colorado Springs, Colo., podiatrist Kenneth Coates. ``You are given only one pair to carry you through life, so you better take care of them.''

Because, unlike car tires, we can't rotate or exchange them after several thousand miles of wear and tear.

With summer just around the corner, our feet are beginning to emerge from their cold-weather cocoons of socks and boots. Will yours bask in the sun like silky butterflies or sit there like lumpy gray moths?

It depends on how well you've cared for them, Coates says. And most people aren't good caretakers of their soles.

``Generally, feet today are not in very good shape,'' says Tom Brunick, director of the Consumer Wear Test Center in Chicago, which has studied people, their feet and the shoes they wear for more than 14 years. Our active lifestyles put more stress on our feet than ever, he says, and we aren't paying much attention to maintaining their well-being.

The condition of our feet depends on a lot of factors, from genetics to hygiene to the shoes we wear.

Foot problems can begin at an early age, Coates says. Because shoes are expensive, parents may try to squeeze more mileage out of them by making a child wear them after they've quickly outgrown them.

Not a good idea.

``Parents should not let children wear shoes that are too tight for too long,'' Coates says. Just like adults, kids can develop in-grown toenails, hammer toes, corns, bunions and blisters from shoes rubbing or squeezing the foot.

And kids who go barefoot or wear sandals a lot may have feet that tend to spread or be broad.

Foot size and shape also can predispose someone to problems because it is difficult to find shoes that fit.

``There are people who are actually born with square feet,'' Coates says.

Certain ailments may affect the feet, too. People with diabetes are particularly susceptible to injuries because of nerve and circulation problems. The loss of feeling in a foot from nerve damage can cause cuts, ulcers or inflammations that go unnoticed until they are serious.

Pain often is the best warning that something is wrong, but people often ignore it until it is impossible not to, Coates says.

The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons says one in six people in the United States - or 43.1 million - has foot problems. Of those, 36 percent regard theirs as serious enough for medical attention.

The cost of surgery to correct foot problems from tight-fitting shoes is $2 billion a year. If time off from work for the surgery and recovery is included, the annual cost is $3.5 billion, according to the orthopaedic academy.

But many foot problems are preventable, Brunick says.

``Only about 3 percent of the population has ever seen a podiatrist. If I said that about teeth and dentists, you would probably be writing all kinds of exposes,'' he says.

People should see a doctor about their feet at least once every couple of years, or more often if there are problems, he says.

One preventable source of foot pain is fashion.

A study by the American Orthopaedic Foot and Ankle Society found that nine out of 10 women wear shoes that are too small for their feet.

Fashionable high heels put pressure on toes and the ball of the foot, stretching and compressing tendons and ligaments into unnatural shapes. Some of today's women's shoes that resemble clunky combat boots with rounded toes are at least somewhat better than spiked heels and pointy toes, Coates says.

Sometimes it takes lasting pain to ingrain sole hazards in fashion-conscious souls.

``I know all about hurtin' feet,'' says Bonnie Bergman, 58, a former airline flight attendant. ``Back when I started in 1965, we all wore heels - not spikes, but 2 to 3 inches. At the end of the day, I wanted to sit down and not get up, my feet hurt so much. I had bunions on my big toe and corns on my little toe.''

Today she rarely wears dress shoes. ``At home, I either just wear socks or slippers, and when I go out, I wear tennies,'' she says.

Squeezing our dogs into too-small digs isn't always the fault of fashion, however.

``It doesn't matter if you are an NBA player or an average person - we see them all, and they are usually wearing shoes that are too small,'' Brunick says.

That's largely because people don't realize their feet grow and change after age 18. Age, weight, pregnancy and heavy activity contribute to the spreading and elongation of feet, he says.

``Some people haven't measured their feet in years. You need to measure them on a regular basis and try on shoes before you buy them,'' he says.

Heed these problems, then put your best foot foward

Here are some common foot problems, and how to treat - or prevent - them.

Bunions: They're a misalignment at the side of the big toe that appears as a bony growth. Bunions can be an inherited trait or from pressure and rubbing of ill-fitting shoes. Cure generally involves surgical removal. To prevent them, wear comfortable, properly fitted shoes.

Blisters: The fluid-filled pockets that develop beneath the top layer of skin can lead to serious infections if untreated. Friction on skin rubbed by socks and loose-fitting shoes cause them. A podiatrist should drain a large, painful blister if it interferes with activity. Minor blisters can be treated with antiseptics and covered. To avoid future blisters, wear properly fitted shoes.

Corns: The painful deep calluses consist of layers of thick, dead, hard skin that usually develops on or between the toes as a result of rubbing and pressure of the shoe on bony areas of the foot. To avoid them, make sure shoes fit properly. Treat with pads to cushion the affected area; over-the-counter medications that contain mild acids that eat away the dead skin, but they also may damage healthy tissue. It is best to let your podiatrist use gentle and precise trimming.

Calluses: Hardened areas of dead, dry skin found on the sole or heel of the foot are caused by rubbing and pressure of shoes against bony areas on your foot. Moisturizing creams and scrubbing can help reduce them.

Fungus: Symptoms include blisters, itching, burning, and cracked or scaly skin or discolored, deformed, oozing toenails. The cause is a fungus infection called athlete's foot or nail fungus, usually from coming in contact with other infected people in public showers or pools. Treatment includes thorough cleaning, along with the use of antifungal spray or powder, or prescription drugs. To prevent, wash and frequently check feet and toes for signs of soreness, cracks or redness. Avoid walking barefoot around public pools and showers.

Sesamoiditis: Painful inflammation of the sesamoid bones within the ball of the foot is caused by pressure from high-impact sports such as aerobics, tennis or running. To avoid, discard old, worn-out shoes, reduce activity and wear proper sport shoes.

Ingrown toenails: Inflammation at the edge of the toenail, where the nail grows into the skin rather than outward toward the end of the toe, can be caused by wearing shoes that are too tight, which alters the shape of the nail. To avoid, trim nails straight across and wear proper-fitting shoes. Treatment in severe cases involves minor surgery.

Heel pain: Inflammation or irritation of the heel can be a sign of heel spurs, formed by extra bone buildup where the heel meets the arch. It also can be a result of inflammation or irritation due to overuse or injury, or certain conditions such as diabetes, gout and arthritis. Treatment involves protective padding and taping, medication, physical therapy, and prescription orthotic foot supports. Sometimes outpatient surgery is required to remove spurs.

Arch pain: People with high-arch feet and flat feet are especially prone to arch pain, which is the result of inflammation of the ligament on the bottom of your foot. It's often the result of fatigue from prolonged activity and standing, and wearing poor-fitting or worn-out shoes. Treatment involves better arch support, such as a prescription foot orthotics. To prevent, wear supportive and properly fitting shoes.

- Colorado Springs Gazette

CAPTION(S):

2 Photos, Box

Photo: (1--Cover--Color) SOLE SURVIVAL

To avoid pain, don't be cruel to your feet

(2) With summer just around the corner, our feet are beginning to emerge from their cold-weather cocoons of socks and boots. How they look and feel depends on how well they've been cared for.

David Crane/Daily News

Box: Heed these problems, then put your best foot foward (See Text)
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:L.A. LIFE
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jun 15, 1998
Words:1500
Previous Article:1998 TEACHER OF THE YEAR; POPULAR EDUCATOR GIVES KIDS A VOICE.
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