Friday, July 13, 2007

Keep your feet healthy and be a sole survivor

YOU'VE bought those glamorous thonged flip-flops, funky sling-back wedges and vertiginous strappy sandals. You've even clipped and painted your toenails in the must-have colour de jour.

But feet are among the hardest-working parts of our body, yet often the most neglected - just ask Victoria Beckham who was recently snapped with her bunions squashed into high-heeled sandals.
Bunions, blisters, cracked heels, nail fungus, nasty odours, calluses, hard discoloured skin - there's nothing nastier than catching a glimpse of a stomach-churning foot ailment, ruining a perfect look.

And if your tootsies have spent their adult lives cocooned in boots, crammed into dangerously-high heels or even let loose in sweaty trainers, the chances are they will need a complete overhaul when it comes to the summer unveiling, with three out of four of us suffering from some sort of foot problem.

Most of us take a whopping 18,000 steps every day and walk 100,000 miles in our lifetime so it's crucial to take care of our feet to prevent serious problems developing. And no, a simple pedicure or dousing in moisturiser will not do. Only chiropodists and podiatrists, who specialise in foot health, can treat and solve the nasty medical conditions that plague many a foot.

These foot doctors not only solve problems but also prevent them from recurring through specialist care and knowledge.

"Your feet are in shoes most of the time and people often don't look after them, seeing them as something at the end of their legs," says Edinburgh podiatrist, Anne Sibbald of Natural Therapies, a foot doctor for more than 20 years. "What we forget is that, as we're walking, our feet hit the ground at an approximate acceleration rate of 30mph and that's why it's so painful if you stub your toe.

"Feet are also very good shock absorbers too."

Edinburgh podiatrist Toni Blacklock, of the Edinburgh Podiatry Clinic, agrees and adds: "Feet are the last part we wash in the shower and are often forgotten about when moisturising.

"Why? Because unless they remind us they're there, they're taken for granted and, if something goes wrong, everything stops. There's little worse than sore feet."

According to Toni, neglecting our tootsies doesn't just lead to bunions and sore knees, it can also have more serious consequences. Foot problems are directly associated with back pains and with hips so damaged they might eventually need to be replaced. Ultimately, poor foot care can result in limited mobility.

Anne continues: "If you don't look after your feet, long term you can get chronic problems, which not only affect your feet but your knees, ankles, hips and even the back. By looking after your feet at an early stage, you're less likely to get problems."

Anne, who's also the Edinburgh secretary for the Society of Chiropodists and Podiatrists, stresses that because the feet are the most overworked and overlooked part of the body, people should sign up for an annual check-up to prevent rather than cure ailments.

"Podiatrists can actually check to see if you're likely to get problems and advise early on," she adds. "Think of it as a check-up because, if your feet go wrong, it can cause huge amounts of problems and impact upon your daily life."

And if you think hard skin or cracked heels are fine, you should think again.

"Hard skin, if left too long, isn't good either," says Anne. "In diabetics, it can lead to ulceration under the hard skin. Hard skin in general can hide serious problems. And cracked heels can end up leading to cellulitis and other infections."

According to the NHS website, both chiropodists and podiatrists are qualified to diagnose and treat abnormalities of the lower limb, as well as give advice on the prevention of foot problems and foot care.

Chiropodists are available at The Scholl Total Footcare Centre, where they diagnose and treat every foot problem imaginable. Tonic Health on Commercial Street has a podiatry clinic, as does Medicalternative. The Bruntsfield Chiropody, A1 Chiropody and the Brougham Foot Clinic are all popular clinics too.

However, once any foot problems are solved, it's time to visit a pedicurist - the experts of the beauty world at keeping feet in top condition.

Salon LA, on Broughton Street, offers some of the very best foot care in the Capital and its pedicure experts treat both men and women.

All their deluxe pedicures are carried out on a throne chair - a New York-style massaging leather "throne" with a hot spa foot soak attached. The luxury pedicures treat the skin and nail area to ensure feet not only look but feel their best.

A foot soak in eucalyptus spa crystals and exfoliation soften and reduce the build-up of hard skin, followed by the expert shaving offhard skin, leaving a baby smooth appearance.

Massage then stimulates the foot and leg and the treatment is finished by intensive nail and cuticle work. The treatment lasts one hour and 15 minutes and costs £35. Also try Agnieszka (Anoushka) at Urban Angel on Lord Russell Place. Pure Nail and Beauty, at Ocean Terminal and on Lothian Road, is another place where your feet can be pampered but staff at the salon urge clients to visit a chiropodist first.

Foot expert Debbie Mason says: "We are professionals at making your feet look their finest but we cannot sort out foot problems.

"It is always best to see a chiropodist first to resolve any medical ailments before they get serious.

"The medical treatments will leave your feet in a condition that will benefit greatly from pedicures. By working side by side we can achieve optimum results."

But Toni says: "While a pedicure will make feet look and feel nice, a podiatry treatment will rejuvenate them in addition to assessing and treating everything for the now and for the long-term. We address all."

• An appointment with Anne Sibbald of Natural Therapies costs from £25. Telephone 0131-476 7272 to book. For an appointment with Toni Blacklock at the Edinburgh Podiatry Clinic (Medicalternative), call 0131-225 5656

HIGH heels are an essential part of a female's wardrobe - lengthening pins and minimising rears. They have long been the party essential. But high heels often become "killer" heels, leading to problems such as blisters, corns, calluses and foot pain.

But according to the Society of Chiropodists and Podiatrists, women can enjoy their love affair with heels and save their soles. Here's how:

1. Limit high heels for special occasions.

2. Never wear high heels for more than eight hours a time.

3. If the heel feels too high, never wear it.

4. Everyday wear heel height shouldn't be more than 4cm to 5cm.

5. Shorten your stride in high heels. This will minimise damage to your feet.

6. Let the experts advise on the right size shoe. Sizes vary according to the brand and style, so have them correctly fitted and check that there is up to half an inch of space in the shoe beyond the longest toe, and that the shoes are not too narrow.

7. Give feet extra special attention during and after wearing high heels. Exercise the calf, heel and foot muscles by stretching them out to increase circulation and help them relax.

8. Regularly give your feet a moisturising massage after wearing high heels to help foot muscles relax and put back some of the essential moisture lost to backless or open-toe shoes.

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