While it’s widely accepted that women are four times more likely to experience foot problems than men (thanks, high heels and pointy pumps!), it doesn’t mean we should ignore the male side of foot discomfort. Foot pain is an equal opportunity nuisance and often results from neglect and a lack of awareness about the right kind of foot care. In honor of Men’s Health Month and Father’s Day, we’re addressing the most common issues plaguing the toes and soles of America’s men and show you how to make life a little easier for the male feet in your life.
Feet like an athlete, without the athlete’s foot
It may come as no surprise that athlete’s foot affects more men than women, but not because they play more sports! Athlete’s foot, a type of ringworm, is a fungal infection that can spread all over the body but most often makes its home on the feet. And wouldn’t you know it that fungi just love to live in damp, dark and warm environments – exactly like the inside the airless and heavy shoes men spend most of the year in. It’s usually transmitted in wet areas where people walk barefoot; once on the skin, it’s able to grow to its heart’s content enclosed in the shoe. Sufferers of athlete’s foot will likely experience scaling and flaking of the skin and a serious itch around the affected areas. To prevent athlete’s foot, the first step is to never come into contact with it at all. Always use shower shoes in shared bathrooms, locker rooms and aquatic facilities. Avoid sharing towels and shoes with others and keep your feet as dry and clean as possible (don’t forget the area between the toes). Always dry your feet well before putting on your shoes and socks. If the weather allows it, wear sandals (with proper support, of course!) or shoes made of breathable materials. Use moisture-wicking socks made of synthetic materials, and change your socks often to get rid of the environment that fungus needs to survive. Cut out the sugar in your diet to keep it from feeding the fungus on your feet. Or you can always try a raw garlic footbath; it may not smell like roses, but the antifungal properties will help relieve itching and inflammation.
Do you smell something funky in here? Oh man, put your shoes back on!
Specific foot fungi (including some that cause those nasty yellowish toenails) or just plain old sweaty feet can cause traffic-stopping foot odor for some men. While the sweat itself smells a lot like nothing, the bacteria normally found on the human skin thrive in the damp environment. The bacteria generate foul-smelling waste as consumes dead skin and breaks down the sweat. Again, it’s important that your feet can breathe in quality socks (not too tight, not nylon or polyester) and shoes. Wash your feet regularly with antibacterial soap. Antibacterial or copper socks can help reduce the smell by getting rid of the bacteria, and moisture-wicking socks can reduce the amount of sweat clinging to your feet. You can also try shoe inserts and foot powders that work to eat away at the odor
How was Achilles such a great warrior with pain like this?
Achilles tendonitis is caused by overuse, usually from a sudden surge of exercise or sports involvement. This leads to the tearing and stretching of the fibers that make up the Achilles tendon. You’ll recognize it by pain specifically at the back of the foot a bit above the heel. This discomfort may spread to the whole ankle and be especially severe when walking. It’s important to take care of this when it begins bothering you, as delayed treatment can cause eventual tendon rupture (requiring a more serious response). Besides rest and ice, anti-inflammatory meds will help with the pain. Stretching and working up your level of physical activity (as opposed to diving right in) will also be beneficial. You may also want to try orthotics and footwear with the appropriate level of cushioning, motion control, pronation and heel flare for your specific feet; getting a fitting at a reputable shoe store – like SHOES-n-FEET – will help prevent Achilles problems and assist in your recovery should you be injured.
Will my heel ever heal?
Heel pain can be caused by other things as well, including pinched nerves or broken bones. Plantar fasciitis is the inflammation of the connective tissue on the bottom of your foot. This extremely common foot issue is marked by acute pain in the heel and arch after periods of rest (often in the morning or after sitting for an extended time). Sometimes plantar fasciitis is accompanied by heel spurs, a bony bump that comes from the repeated pulling of the tissue attached to the heel bone. Both are likely caused by excessive pronation and shoes that don’t fit correctly; they are often treated by daily calf stretches, supportive shoes and orthotics. Haglund’s deformity is another bony addition, this one forming on the back of the heel where the Achilles tendon meets the bone. This painful reddish growth comes from repeated pressure from badly fitted or badly made shoes, so look for footwear that provides you with enough space in the heel area or has a low back. It’s important to focus on prevention because once formed, it will not go away without surgery.
My achy breaky hallux
Men often suffer from arthritis in big toe (known as “hallux rigidus” to the doctor types). It develops slowly as time, age and activity wears down the cartilage forming the joint of the big toe, though can develop more abruptly if there is other regular trauma, such as turf toe. As the cartilage disappears and the raw bones rub together, a bone spur (growth) develops, and the toe can’t bend and move like normal. This eventually will cause stiffness, pain and swelling, and potentially a bump on the top of the foot as well. Specific shoes that allow space for the toe may reduce pain, but surgery might be necessary if caught late.
This castle isn’t worth the gout
Gout is a type of acute arthritis, rather than a chronic condition, meaning that it arises in painful episodes (including ones that last up to a few weeks). Affecting 9 times as many men as women, it is caused by a build-up of uric acid in the joints that eventually becomes sharp crystals that collect around the joints (especially in the ball of the foot and big toe). Gout is known as the “disease of kings” because, in addition to genetic and trauma-related causes, it is also attributed to a diet fit for royalty – full of alcohol, red meat and seafood. Gout presents usually around bedtime with inflammation, tenderness and pain, occasionally accompanied by fever and urinary issues. Rest and ice are usually recommended to treat a gout attack, and you’ll want to use certain shoes to accommodate the swelling; additionally, lifestyle changes may be encouraged to prevent future flares.
Real men treat their feet with love
Maybe it’s time to sit yourself down in a pedicure chair – they’re not just for women! They’ll help you keep your feet healthy. But if you’re not quite comfortable with a trip to the salon, make sure to maintain healthy feet with the tips below:
- Keep your toenails cut straight across. Not only are long toenails an eyesore, they get in the way. Chip your toenail and you’re in for some pain, so get your hands on a pair of clippers.
- Use a pumice stone and moisturizer to deal with calluses. No one enjoys looking at callused and cracked feet, even if it’s from afar. Remove the toughened skin and prevent new ones by wearing well-fitting shoes. This will reduce friction against your skin and avoid buildup.
- If you have an ingrown toenail, don’t play with it at home. Get yourself to a doctor to deal with it to keep bacteria from getting into the toe.
And although men tend to have less pairs of shoes in their closet, just like women, they should make sure that the shoes they do wear are foot-friendly. You don’t have to have 15 pairs in your wardrobe but you are allowed to have shoes for different occasions. Make sure you have the right footwear for a wide range of activities.
Don’t suffer for fashion, especially in dress shoes. Fit is essential, so pick the correct width for your feet and a style with a roomy toe box. The right support inside the shoe will stave off back and leg pain and lower your chance of many foot problems in the future.
And don’t wait if you think a trip to the podiatrist might be warranted. See a doctor immediately if you have persistent pain or experience an ankle sprain. Repeated sprains are more likely if you try to diagnose it yourself and can eventually lad to chronic ankle weakness. While you might resist the idea of a doctor’s visit, remember: your feet are important so don’t take them for granted!