Arthritis - Arthritis can affect various part of the body and the foot is prone to two variants of this often-painful ailment. Rheumatoid arthritis is an inflammatory disease that affects the tissues that cushion the bones. This causes swelling and stiffness that can jam or freeze free movement of the affected joint. The small joints of the hands and feet are the most common parts to experience rheumatoid arthritis - both at the onset and during the course of the condition - hence its prevalence around the big toe and ankle. Osteoarthritis is caused by wear and tear on the gristly cartilage that supports movement of a joint. The big toe - which bears the brunt of the body's weight during propulsive movement - can therefore be particularly susceptible. Again, osteoarthritis causes tenderness and rigidity in the affected area.
There are no 'cures' for arthritis, but orthotic devices, cushioned inserts, anti-inflammatory drugs and sometimes surgery are all successful in improving mobility and reducing discomfort. As weak muscles can also contribute to loss of flexibility and mobility, prescribed exercise (such as swimming) can also improve the conditions. If you have signs of arthritis, consult a GP or podiatrist as soon as possible.
Hallux Rigidus - as the name implies, a rigid straightening of the toe with loss of mobility in the joint.
Heel Spurs - a painful growth of bone in the heel area often caused by an awkward walking action or excessive downward impacts during exercise.
Metatarsalgia - this term refers to pain in the ball of the foot. This could be caused by a number of different things and it is best to seek advice from a podiatrist to check the cause and appropriate treatment.
Shin Splints - normally occurring two to six inches above the foot, shin splints are inflamed muscle tendons frequently caused by the over-training of young athletes and/or poor biomechanics.
Peripheral Vascular Disease - a progressive narrowing of the arteries, which can cause calf muscle cramping, a numb or tingly feeling in an affected foot, and a change of skin temperature in the surrounding area. (Likewise, varicose veins can also cause swelling, discolouration and discomfort in the feet.)
Gout - caused by the excessive build-up and deposit of uric acid crystals in foot joints, usually the big toe. The condition usually cures itself with time but a change of diet and alcohol intake is frequently recommended!
Achilles Tendonitis - inflammation of the tendon connecting the heel to the calf muscle. Straining of the tendon during exercise is the most common cause. (A similar condition - in-step tendonitis - can cause discomfort around the inner arch.)
Cold Feet and Chilblains - red and irritable to start with, this painful blemish can often turn into an itchy, red swelling. (What's more, chilblains tend to occur around the bony parts of the feet - just where you've already got a nasty corn or bunion!). Chilblains are caused by the skin's abnormal reaction to cold. Cold is bad enough on its own but when cold is followed by sudden heat, it can result in chilblains. When small blood vessels in the feet get cold, they constrict. When exposed to warmth, the vessel can't cope with the sudden expansion and fluid can seep into surrounding tissue, causing irritation. That's a chilblain.
Although socks and shoes protect our feet, they are usually chosen for comfort,>
Advising people to wrap up warm when it's cold seems simple, but that's exactly what you should do with your feet. Choose thicker socks (preferably natural fibre) and leather shoes (better for insulation) when the temperature drops. Avoiding chilblains can be difficult as the move from outdoor chill to indoor warmth is welcome in the winter. However, try to avoid putting direct heat on cold feet and, if a chilblain should occur, avoid scratching as this can open up the surface and create an infection. Chilblains usually die down of their own accord but, if in doubt or pain, consult your podiatrist.
Cold feet are usually a natural consequence of cold weather and nothing to worry about normally. If, however, your feet are constantly cold (even in warmer climates) you should seek medical advice. The condition may be symptomatic of poor circulation or indicative of other ailments that require scrutiny. Similarly, diabetics should take extra care of their feet during cold spells. The numbing effect of chilly weather can exacerbate the existing loss of feeling in the feet often experienced by people with diabetes.