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Corns are calluses that form on the toes because of bones that push up against shoes and build up pressure on the skin. The surface layer of the skin thickens, irritating the tissues underneath. Hard corns are usually located on the top of the toe or on the side of the small toe. Soft corns resemble open sores and develop between the toes as they rub against each other.
Improperly fitting shoes are a leading cause of corns. Toe deformities, such as hammertoe or claw toe, also can lead to corns. Self-care for corns includes soaking feet regularly and using a pumice stone or callus file to reduce the size of the corn. Special over-the-counter, non-medicated, donut-shaped foam pads can be worn to help relieve the pressure and discomfort. For large or lasting corns, please contact our office. We can shave off the corns using a scalpel.
Painful calluses on the ball of the foot are caused by an abnormal alignment of the metatarsal bones. There are five metatarsal bones in each foot, each consisting of the long bones behind each toe. The metatarsal bone behind the big toe is called the first metatarsal, and so on.
The most common metatarsal surgery is performed on the first metatarsal for the correction of bunions.
Surgery on the second through fifth metatarsal bones is performed infrequently and is usually done to treat painful calluses on the bottom of the foot or non-healing ulcers on the ball of the foot. Patients with rheumatoid arthritis may also need metatarsal surgery.
During surgery, the metatarsal bone is cut just behind the toe. Generally, the bone is cut all the way through, and then manually raised and held in its corrected position with a metal pin or screw. Following the surgery, the patient’s foot may be placed in a cast.
In some instances, a surgeon will also cut out the painful callous on the bottom of the foot, but most prefer to do the procedure in an outpatient setting.
Hammertoe is a deformity of the second, third, or fourth toes. In this condition, the toe is bent at the middle joint, causing it to resemble a hammer. Left untreated, hammertoes can become inflexible and painful, requiring surgery.
Hammertoe surgery can be done on an outpatient basis in the doctor’s office or a surgery center using a local anesthetic, sometimes combined with sedation. The surgery takes about 15 minutes to perform. Up to four small incisions are made and the tendons are rebalanced around the toe so that it no longer curls. Patients usually can walk immediately after the surgery wearing a special surgical shoe. Minimal or no pain medication is needed following the surgery.
Icing and elevation of the foot are recommended during the first week following the procedure to prevent excessive swelling and promote healing. It is also important that the dressing is kept clean and dry to prevent infection. Two weeks after the surgery, the sutures are removed and a wide athletic shoe can replace the postoperative surgical shoe. Patients can then gradually increase their walking and other physical activities.
Orthotics, also known as orthoses, refers to any device inserted into a shoe, ranging from felt pads to custom-made shoe inserts that correct an abnormal or irregular, walking pattern. Sometimes called arch supports, orthotics allow people to stand, walk, and run more efficiently and comfortably. While over-the-counter orthotics are available and may help people with mild symptoms, they normally cannot correct the wide range of symptoms that prescription foot orthoses can since they are not custom made to fit an individual’s unique foot structure.
Orthotic devices come in many shapes, sizes, and materials and fall into three main categories: those designed to change foot function, those that are primarily protective in nature, and those that combine functional control and protection.
Rigid orthotic devices are designed to control function and are used primarily for walking or dress shoes. They are often composed of a firm material, such as plastic or carbon fiber. Rigid orthotics are made from a mold after a podiatrist takes a plaster cast or other kind of image of the foot. Rigid orthotics control motion in the two major foot joints that lie directly below the ankle joint and may improve or eliminate strains, aches, and pains in the legs, thighs, and lower back.
Soft orthotics are generally used to absorb shock, increase balance, and take pressure off uncomfortable or sore spots. They are usually effective for diabetic, arthritic, and deformed feet. Soft orthotics are typically made up of soft, cushioned materials so that they can be worn against the sole of the foot, extending from the heel past the ball of the foot, including the toes. Like rigid orthotics, soft orthotics are also made from a mold after a podiatrist takes a plaster cast or other kind of image of the foot.
Semi-rigid orthotics provide foot balance for walking or participating in sports. The typical semi-rigid orthotic is made up of layers of soft material, reinforced with more rigid materials. Semi-rigid orthotics are often prescribed for children to treat flatfoot and in-toeing or out-toeing disorders. These orthotics are also used to help athletes mitigate pain while they train and compete.
Arthroscopic surgery on the foot and ankle may be used as a diagnostic or treatment procedure, or both. A small instrument, called an arthroscope, penetrates the skin through small incisions. Tiny cameras can be inserted through the arthroscope, allowing the surgeon to accurately see the area and/or damage. Other small instruments can also be inserted through the arthroscope to make surgical corrections.
Because arthroscopy is less invasive and traumatic than traditional surgery, it reduces the risk of infection and swelling and allows for significantly speedier healing and recovery. Most arthroscopic surgeries of the foot and ankle are performed on a same-day, outpatient basis using a local anesthetic.
Ankle surgery may be required to correct a serious deformity of the ankle and its bone structure. Injury (such as a fracture), birth defects, or changes throughout the course of life are the usual culprits. Diseases, such as diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and neuromuscular conditions, may cause severe foot and ankle deformities that, over time, cause pain and difficulty in walking.
Ankle surgeries emphasize the realignment of the structure either around or after removal of the deformity. Various kinds of internal and external fixation devices—some temporary, others permanent—are often required to maintain the appropriate alignment during, and beyond, the healing process.
Ankle surgeries vary in complexity, length, and severity, yet many of them today are conducted on a same-day, outpatient basis. Patients need to arrange for another person to take them home afterward and stay with them for the first 24 hours following the surgery. Post-operative instructions, provided by your surgeon, will give you the information needed to care for your recovering ankle following surgery.
Most foot warts are harmless, even though they may be painful. They are often mistaken for corns or calluses, which are layers of dead skin that build up to protect an area which is being continuously irritated. A wart, however, is caused by a viral infection which invades the skin through small or invisible cuts and abrasions. Foot warts are generally raised and fleshy and can appear anywhere on the foot or toes. Occasionally, warts can spontaneously disappear after a short time, and then, just as frequently, they recur in the same location. If left untreated, warts can grow to an inch or more in circumference and can spread into clusters of warts. Children, especially teenagers, tend to be more susceptible to warts than adults.
Plantar warts, also known as verrucas, appear on the soles of the feet and are one of several soft tissue conditions that can be quite painful. Unlike other foot warts, plantar warts tend to be hard and flat, with a rough surface and well-defined boundaries. They are often gray or brown (but the color may vary), with a center that appears as one or more pinpoints of black. Plantar warts are often contracted by walking barefoot on dirty surfaces or littered ground. The virus that causes plantar warts thrives in warm, moist environments, making infection a common occurrence in public pools and locker rooms.
Like any other infectious lesion, plantar warts are spread by touching, scratching, or even by contact with skin shed from another wart. The wart may also bleed, another route for spreading. Plantar warts that develop on the weight-bearing areas of the foot (the ball or heel of the foot) can cause a sharp, burning pain. Pain occurs when weight is brought to bear directly on the wart, although pressure on the side of a wart can create equally intense pain.
To prevent the spread of warts, follow these tips:
- Avoid direct contact with warts, both from other persons or from other parts of the body.
- Avoid walking barefoot, except on sandy beaches.
- Change your shoes and socks daily.
- Check your children’s feet periodically.
- Keep your feet clean and dry.
It is important to note that warts can be very resistant to treatment and have a tendency to recur. Over-the-counter foot wart treatments are usually ineffective because their use can inadvertently destroy surrounding healthy tissue. Please contact our office for help in effectively treating warts. Our practice is expert in recommending the best treatment for each patient, ranging from prescription ointments or medications to, in the most severe cases, laser cautery.
Adult-acquired flatfoot or posterior tibial tendon dysfunction usually leads to a gradual loss of the arch. The posterior tibial muscle is a deep muscle in the back of the calf and has a long tendon that extends from above the ankle and attaches into several sites around the arch of the foot. The muscle acts like a stirrup on the inside of the foot to help support the arch. The posterior tibial muscle stabilizes the arch and creates a rigid platform for walking and running. If the posterior tibial tendon becomes damaged or tears, the arch loses its stability and as a result, collapses, causing a flatfoot.
Surgery is often performed to give the patient a more functional and stable foot. Several procedures may be required to correct a flatfoot deformity, depending on the severity of the problem. These may include:
- Tenosynovectomy—a procedure to clean away (debridement) and remove any of the inflamed tissue around the tendon.
- Osteotomy—removal of a portion of the heel bone (calcaneus) to move the foot structure back into alignment.
- Tendon Transfer—in which replacement fibers from another tendon are inserted to help repair damage.
- Lateral Column Lengthening—A procedure that implants a small piece of bone, usually removed from the hip, outside of the heel bone to create the proper bone alignment and rebuild the arch.
- Arthrodesis—Fusing of one or more bones together to eliminate any joint movement, which stabilizes the foot and prevents any further deterioration or damage.
Bunions are progressive bone deformities of the foot that often cause recurring or chronic inflammation, irritation, and pain that require surgical correction. Surgical removal of a bunion is called a bunionectomy. However, there are multiple types of bunionectomies, each designed to resolve different structural changes caused by the deformity.
Bunion surgeries fall into two major categories:
- Head procedures that treat the big toe joint. In a head procedure bunionectomy, the bone is cut just behind the joint, moved into its proper position, and fixed in place with a screw or pin. Head procedures are often used for patients who cannot be immobilized for long periods of time.
- Base procedures concentrate on the bone near or behind the big toe joint. Different types of base procedures are conducted depending on the nature of the deformity. These range from cutting a wedge out of the bone and splitting it so that it can be moved into its proper position; making a semi-circular cut and rotating the bone into its correct position; or fusing the joint. Ligaments inside and outside the toe may also be treated during a base procedure.
There are three important factors that impact the success of bunion surgery:
- Choose a surgeon with extensive experience with bunionectomies. Because a deep understanding of the biomechanics of each patient’s foot, as well as the intricacies of each surgical option, is needed, surgeons with more experience at doing bunionectomies are better able to help each patient achieve the best outcome.
- Be realistic in your expectation about what a bunionectomy can accomplish. No physician can guarantee that a bunion won’t recur or that a patient will be absolutely pain-free. Additionally, because of the complexity of the foot structures impacted by a bunion, patients may never be able to wear normal or slender shoes. Bunion surgery can reduce or eliminate the bone deformity, improve foot alignment and function, and prevent damage to other toes, but it does have its limitations. Be sure you understand all the possibilities before opting for this surgery.
- Bunion surgery is not a magic bullet. Surgery alone may not be all that is needed to achieve your best outcome. After surgery, many patients experience long healing and recovery times and often have to spend time in physical therapy. Additionally, you may need a corrective orthotic device on an ongoing basis.
What to Expect
Most bunions surgeries today are performed on an outpatient basis at a surgical center or hospital. Set aside the entire day for the surgery, although you may only be at the facility for a half day.
Prior to the surgery, patients will need to make some preparatory arrangements. These include:
- Seeing your Primary Care Physician (PCP) to make sure any other health conditions are stabilized prior to surgery and to document your complete medical history, which can then be given to the foot surgeon.
- Arranging your schedule to make sure you don’t need to take any long trips for at least two to three weeks following the surgery.
- Lining up another person to drive you home and stay with you for the first 24 hours after the surgery.
- Stopping the use of any anti-inflammatory medications, such as aspirin, ibuprofen, or acetaminophen, for five to seven days before the surgery.
The night before the surgery, you will not be able to eat or drink anything after midnight. You should also wash your foot the night before and morning of the procedure to help reduce surrounding bacteria and prevent infection.
Bunion surgery is usually performed with a local anesthetic and is administered by an anesthesiologist. This may be combined with sedation medication to put you into “twilight” so that you are fully relaxed. After the surgery, patients are often given a long-acting anesthetic and pain medication, which is why someone else must drive the patient home.
The type of procedure you have will determine the degree to which you can put weight on the foot immediately after the surgery. Some patients, particularly those having base procedures, may have to use crutches; others may be sent home wearing a surgical shoe. The foot will be covered in a dressing, which you will need to keep dry for up to two weeks or until the sutures are removed.
During the first week after surgery, you will need to keep the foot elevated as much as possible. Ice packs also should be applied for the first three to four days to reduce swelling. Limited ambulation or walking is required over the first two weeks to promote healing. Most patients also are instructed on some basic exercises that need to be performed daily.
Sutures are generally removed about two weeks after the surgery in the doctor’s office. Once the sutures are removed, you can bathe and shower normally, but will still need to wear a dressing over the wound to keep it clean and prevent infection.
By the third or fourth-week post surgery, swelling generally subsides enough for the patient to begin wearing a wide athletic shoe. It is important to continue daily exercises. If recommended, physical therapy may be initiated at this time. Once the wound has completely closed, you can use lotions to soften the skin in the surgical area.
By week five after the surgery, you will be able to walk short distances and do mild fitness activities. Continue following your surgeon’s instructions for increasing exercise and activities until you are back to normal.
National Institutes of Health
National Institute on Aging
P.O. Box 8057
Gaithersburg, Maryland 20898-8057
(800) 222-4225 (TTY)
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK)
Room 9A04 Center Drive, MSC 2560
Bethesda, MD 20892-2560
American Diabetes Association
American Academy of Podiatric Sports Medicine
American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
6300 N. River Road
Rosemont, IL 60018
American College of Foot & Ankle Surgeons
8725 W. Higgins Road, Suite 555
Chicago, IL 60631-2724
American Physical Therapy Association
1111 N. Fairfax Street
Alexandria, VA 22314-1488
American Podiatric Medical Association
9312 Old Georgetown Road
Bethesda, MD 20814-1621
American Orthopaedic Foot & Ankle Society
6300 N. River Road, Suite 510
Rosemont, IL 60018
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Diabetes and Your Feet
Diabetes is a lifelong chronic disease that is caused by high levels of sugar in the blood. It can also decrease your body’s ability to fight off infections, which is especially harmful in your feet. When diabetes is not properly controlled, damage can occur to the organs and impairment of the immune system is also likely to occur.
With damage to your nervous system, you may not be able to feel your feet properly. Normal sweat secretion and oil production that lubricates the skin of the foot is impaired, which can lead to an abnormal pressure on the skin, bones, and joints of the foot during walking and other activities. This can even lead to the breakdown of the skin of the foot, which often causes sores to develop. If you have diabetes, it is important to prevent foot problems before they occur, recognize problems early, and seek the right treatment when a problem does happen.
Diabetic Complications and Your Feet
When it comes to your feet, there are several risk factors that can increase your chances of developing foot problems and diabetic infections in the legs and feet. First of all, poorly fitting shoes are one of the biggest culprits of diabetic foot complications. If you have red spots, sore spots, blisters, corns, calluses, or consistent pain associated with wearing shoes, new proper fitted shoes must be obtained immediately. Additionally, if you have common foot abnormalities such as flat feet, bunions, or hammertoes, prescription shoes or orthotics from your podiatrist may be necessary to further protect your feet from other damage.
People who have long-standing or poorly controlled diabetes are also at risk for having damage to the nerves in their feet, which is known in the medical community as peripheral neuropathy. If you have nerve damage, you may not be able to feel your feet normally and you may also be unable to sense the position of your feet and toes while walking and balancing, which can cause even more harm to your feet.
Normal nerves allow people to sense if their shoes are too tight or if their shoes are rubbing on the feet too much. With diabetes, you may not be able to properly sense minor injuries, such as cuts, scrapes and blisters-all signs of abnormal wear, tear, and foot strain. The following can also compromise the health of your feet:
- Poor circulation
- Trauma to the foot
Diabetes can be extremely dangerous to your feet, so take precautions now. You can avoid serious problems such as losing a toe, foot, or leg by following proper prevention techniques offered by your podiatrist. Remember, prevention is the key to saving your feet and eliminating pain.
What is a podiatrist?
A podiatrist, also called a doctor of podiatric medicine, is a specialist who provides medical diagnosis and treatment of foot and ankle problems, such as bunions, heel pain, spurs, hammertoes, neuromas, ingrown toenails, warts, corns, and calluses. A podiatrist also renders care of sprains, fractures, infections, and injuries of the foot, ankle, and heel. In addition to undergraduate medical school training, podiatrists also attend graduate school for a doctorate degree in podiatry. Podiatrists are required to take state and national exams, as well as be licensed by the state in which they practice.
According to the American Podiatric Medical Association, there are an estimated 15,000 practicing podiatrists in the United States. Podiatrists are in demand more than ever today because of a rapidly aging population. In addition, according to the association, foot disorders are among the most widespread and neglected health problems affecting people in this country.
- Consult with patients and other physicians on how to prevent foot problems.
- Diagnose and treat tumors, ulcers, fractures, skin and nail diseases, and deformities.
- Perform surgeries to correct or remedy such problems as bunions, claw toes, fractures, hammertoes, infections, and ruptured Achilles or other ligaments and tendons.
- Prescribe therapies and perform diagnostic procedures such as ultrasound and lab tests.
- Prescribe or fit patients with inserts called orthotics that correct walking patterns.
- Treat conditions such as bone disorders, bunions, corns, calluses, cysts, heel spurs, infections, ingrown nails, and plantar fasciitis.
When to call a doctor
People call a doctor of podiatry for help diagnosing and treating a wide array of foot and ankle problems. Please contact our office if you experience one of the following:
- Persistent pain in your feet or ankles.
- Changes in the nails or skin on your foot.
- Severe cracking, scaling, or peeling on the heel or foot.
- Blisters on your feet.
Signs of bacterial infection include:
- Increased pain, swelling, redness, tenderness, or heat.
- Red streaks extending from the affected area.
- Discharge or pus from an area on the foot.
- Foot or ankle symptoms that do not improve after two weeks of treatment with a nonprescription product.
- Spreading of an infection from one area of the foot to another, such as under the nail bed, skin under the nail, the nail itself, or the surrounding skin.
- Thickening toenails that cause discomfort.
- Heel pain accompanied by a fever, redness (sometimes warmth), or numbness.
- Tingling in the heel; persistent heel pain without putting any weight or pressure on your heel
- Pain that is not alleviated by ice or over-the-counter painkillers (such as aspirin, ibuprofen or acetaminophen).
- Diabetics with poor circulation who develop Athlete’s Foot.