How to Care for Your Feet

Take care of your feet to avoid aches and pains that may translate into chronic problems. See more personal hygiene pictures

­­You may not think about your feet that often -- way down there at the ends of your legs -- but they're an essential part of almost everything you do. Whether walking, running, exercising, or just standing, having feet that are comfortable and well-cared for (rather than aching or in pain) makes the experience must more pleasant. Therefore, knowing how to care for your feet is key.

And, this isn't just about feeling good. When your feet don't get the attention they need, chronic problems can develop, which may trouble you for years to come. In many cases, there are some simple stretches and exercises that can help keep your feet in top form. This article will introduce you to these ideas, as well as provide you with valuable guidelines that will make you an expert shoe-shopper -- able to select supportive, comfortable shoes (in the correct size) every time.

However, there are some situations when caring for your feet on your own is not advised. When serious injury occurs or an emergency arises, you should visit a podiatrist -- or even the emergency room. People who have ongoing circulation problems or diabetes should also consult a doctor where any foot problems are concerned. Here's why:

Circulation problems are often associated with older feet, but the fact is that anyone can have such problems. When there's not enough blood flowing to your feet, you may experience tingling, numbness, cramping, and discoloration of the skin and toenails.

Everyday circumstances can restrict blood flow: when feet get cold outdoors or in cold water; when shoes, stockings, or undergarments are too tight; even when you've sat too long with your legs crossed. Smoking reduces circulation to all parts of the body, as does drinking too much coffee or caffeinated soda (both nicotine and caffeine constrict blood vessels). And if you are under severe stress, your nerves can constrict your small blood vessels, lessening their ability to carry blood. Some nervous brides and grooms really do have "cold feet"!

­ Other people have ongoing medical conditions, such as diabetes, that cause sluggish circulation. In addition, for most of us, a cut or blister is an annoying but relatively minor foot problem. For a diabetic, these "little" wounds can have serious consequences. Diabetics' feet are at two general disadvantages that can lead to specific, serious foot problems.

In addition to reduced circulation, a loss of feeling in the foot, called neuropathy, can prevent diabetics from feeling the small aches and pains that normally signal to us that we've been cut or bruised. As a result, minor problems can go unnoticed and untreated, and infection may develop.

One of the best ways to avoid trouble with your feet is to exercise preventive care. Continue to the next page to learn some simple exercises and stretches that can re-energize your feet anytime during the day.