You put your feet through a lot on the daily—and all that walking, running, high-intensity exercising, and cramming your toes into all sorts of shoes can lead to some seriously annoying (and sometimes painful) issues.
The good news is, there are plenty of treatment options for common foot woes—and some can even be solved using natural remedies at home. Keep reading to learn how to show your feet TLC and soothe your peskiest problems. Your healthiest feet ever, coming right up!
- ABOUT OUR EXPERTS: Marcela Correa is a licensed professional medical pedicurist and owner of Medi Pedi NYC. Podiatrist Bruce Pinker, D.P.M., is a fellow of the American College of Podiatric Medicine and founder of Dr. D-LuCS. Jacqueline M. Sutera, D.P.M., is a podiatrist at City Podiatry in New York City.
1. Athlete’s Foot
Also known as tinea pedis, athlete’s foot is a fungal infection of the skin and feet that usually pops up in the space between toes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
It’s common for anyone living a healthy lifestyle and can be caused by walking barefoot in shared common areas, not drying feet well, not changing socks often enough, or not cleaning shoes properly, explains Marcela Correa, licensed professional medical pedicurist and owner of Medi Pedi NYC.
If you’ve got athlete’s foot, “soaking your feet in diluted vinegar may be helpful,” shares podiatrist Bruce Pinker, D.P.M., a fellow of the American College of Podiatric Medicine and founder of Dr. D-LuCS. That’s because vinegar has antifungal properties, according to research published in the journal Pure and Applied Biology.
However, in most cases, you’ll need to use a topical antifungal cream or gel to get rid of this pesky problem, says Pinker. Common ingredients in topical antifungals include clotrimazole, miconazole, terbinafine, and tolnaftate. “It’s essential to follow the product’s instructions and keep the affected area clean and dry for the best results,” adds Correa. “If you have any doubts or questions, it’s always a good idea to consult a healthcare professional or pharmacist.”
And if you want to prevent athlete’s foot, it’s critical to be careful in public showers and bathrooms, says Jacqueline M. Sutera, D.P.M., a podiatrist at City Podiatry in New York City. “Avoid [athlete’s foot] by always wearing shower shoes, and do not walk barefoot when at a hotel, pool, gym, or spa,” she says. The CDC also advises keeping your toenails clean and short since they can house and spread the infection.
2. Toenail Fungus
Beyond athlete’s foot, the other biggest fungal offender your feet face is toenail fungus, a.k.a. onychomycosis. “This is an extremely common condition affecting millions of individuals globally,” says Pinker. According to the CDC, fungal nail infections are caused by different types of fungi in the environment. If there are any small cracks in your nails or the surrounding skin, then these fungi can get in and cause an infection.
“If mild cases are addressed early on, various topicals, such as tea tree oil and liquid antifungals can be effective,” says Pinker. (FYI: Tea tree oil is antifungal, per research published in the journal Skin Pharmacology and Physiology.)
If you’re dealing with toenail fungus, you’ll also want to keep your feet clean and dry, notes the CDC, because excessive moisture allows fungus to thrive. To make this easier, Correa recommends wearing a toe sleeve to prevent water from getting trapped between your nail bed and your toe.
For moderate to severe cases of toenail fungus, natural remedies likely won’t be effective, says Pinker. In these cases, you’ll probably need to take an oral antifungal or potentially get laser treatment to send the infection packing, he says.
To avoid future fungal infections, follow the same prevention practices you would for athlete’s foot, Sutera says. That means no walking around barefoot in public showers and locker rooms and keeping your toenails short and clean.
3. Ingrown Toenails
If you snip your toenails too short—especially around the sides of your big toe—though, then you could leave yourself vulnerable to an ingrown toenail, warns the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons (AAOS). “These occur when a part of the toenail cuts into the skin,” says Sutera. “The skin then becomes painful, swollen, and may even become infected.” Ouch!
There are a few things you can do to treat an ingrown toenail naturally. “If an ingrown occurs, start by soaking in Epsom salt and warm water to bring down the swelling and redness,” says Sutera. (The AAOS suggests soaking your foot three to four times a day.)
Read More: What Your Fingernails Say About Your Health
You may want to try cutting the nail (without cutting into the corner!) and applying antibiotic ointment and a bandage, adds Sutera. “If symptoms don’t resolve, you should seek help from your podiatrist.”
The best way to prevent ingrown toenails is to cut your toenails straight across when trimming them, says Pinker. Avoiding pointy-toed or narrow shoes can also help you avoid them.
4. Corns and Calluses
According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), corns and calluses are hard, thickened areas of skin that develop naturally to help protect the skin underneath. Calluses can appear anywhere on the body where there’s friction, while corns happen where there’s bone pressure against the skin.
Per the AAD, corns and calluses are common on the tops and sides of the toes and balls of the feet—which makes sense, as they can be the result of friction produced by running and exercising, says Correa. They can also be caused by wearing improperly fitted shoes, notes the AAD.
Though they may not be cute, calluses are “healthy and normal” and there’s no way to get rid of them completely, says Correa. What can help, though, is maintaining a regular foot care routine. She recommends using a foot cream daily and exfoliating the feet once a week. (Good ingredients to look for in a foot cream include salicylic acid, ammonium lactate, and urea, which help soften hard calluses, per the AAD.)
Corns, on the other hand, tend to be more tender and painful than calluses. Whereas calluses are usually thick, hardened, flattened patches of skin that are less sensitive than the surrounding skin, corns are hardened areas of skin, often with a raised bump that can be super painful, explains the Cleveland Clinic. Wearing properly fitting shoes is key when dealing with corns, says Pinker. And if your corns are painful and make walking difficult, you may need to see a doctor to have them removed, he suggests.
5. Plantar Warts
Plantar warts are small, rough growths on the feet that are caused by an HPV virus, according to Sutera. They usually show up on the balls or heels since those areas experience the most pressure. Like athlete’s foot, you contract plantar warts by coming into contact with the virus, she says.
“Fungal and viral wart conditions are best evaluated and treated by your podiatrist because they are difficult to treat and are also contagious,” says Sutera. One common in-office treatment option is cryotherapy, which involves applying liquid nitrogen to the wart to freeze it off, according to the Mayo Clinic. You may also be able to use a prescription-strength salicylic acid peeling medicine at home to help remove the wart a layer at a time.
The key to avoiding plantar warts is the same as that to avoiding athlete’s foot and toenail fungus: Don’t walk around barefoot in public showers or locker rooms!
Yet another common foot problem is the dreaded blister. These small pockets of fluid typically form in the upper layers of the skin after damage occurs, according to the National Health Service (NHS). Although they can happen anywhere, they most often happen on the hands and feet.
“Blisters are caused by friction,” explains Sutera. Basically, they pop up when your foot rubs against your shoe. Thankfully, the NHS says most blisters go away on their own in around three to seven days.
You can help alleviate the discomfort of a blister by gently washing and bandaging the area with antibiotic ointment, says Sutera. “It is generally okay to gently pop [a blister] with a sanitized safety pin and drain it,” she adds. “Do not deroof the blister, but do cover it with a band-aid and antibiotic ointment.” If the blister gets infected or is very raw and painful, then see your podiatrist, she says.
You can avoid future blisters by not wearing the same shoes every day and all day, says Sutera. The AAD also recommends wearing nylon or moisture-wicking socks to protect your skin. Applying powder or petroleum jelly to areas that tend to experience friction can help, too.
Bunions are bony bumps that can develop inside of the foot by your big toe joint, according to the AAOS. They’re often hereditary, although wearing improperly-fitting footwear can also lead to the formation of bunions, says Pinker.
If you develop a bunion, Sutera says you should avoid aggravating shoes, apply a topical or take an oral anti-inflammatory, and ice the area. “If your bunion gets larger, or is chronically painful, it is time to see your podiatrist,” she notes.
If you have pain and difficulty walking despite making changes to your footwear and have tried at-home remedies (such as topical ointments and OTC painkillers), then surgery may be necessary, according to the AAOS.
Since bunions can be hereditary, they’re not always avoidable. But there’s one easy thing you can do to slow down their growth if you’re susceptible to them. And that’s making sure you’re wearing comfortable shoes that actually fit!
“If your forefoot is square and wide, you should not stuff it into a tight, narrow, or pointy shoe,” says Sutera. “Use arch support and your podiatrist may even make custom molded orthotics for you to slow down the progression of the bunion.”
8. Plantar Fasciitis
If you do a lot of workouts that place stress on your heels (like running and cardio dance), you could be at risk for plantar fasciitis, notes the Mayo Clinic. “This condition occurs when the band of tissue that connects your heel to your toes becomes inflamed,” explains Sutera.
To treat plantar fasciitis, Sutera recommends massaging your arches, stretching your calves, and icing your heels and arches. She also suggests avoiding flat, thin, old, and worn-out shoes (since they won’t offer any support) and avoiding walking barefoot at home. “Wear shoes and slippers that are supportive, new, and cushioned,” she says.
In most cases, you can recover from plantar fasciitis in a few months with at-home treatments, but if your pain gets worse, head to your podiatrist to see what other options are available. They may recommend you go to physical therapy, wear a splint overnight, or use a walking boot for a brief period.