Your feet reveal your health


Our quality of life is dependent on our ability to function and perform daily activities. For many of us, daily activities require us to be on our feet to get from one place to the next. When our feet hurt or we have foot problems, it is difficult to feel our best and perform these tasks with ease. Not only can it reduce your activity level, but it also can affect your productivity, effectiveness and efficiency.

Your feet are your body's structural foundation and are responsible for your alignment and balance. The human foot has many moving parts, containing 26 bones, 33 joints and more than 200 muscles, tendons and ligaments. Any problem with your feet can affect your entire body. Specifically, if any foot problems cause your gait to change, your posture and balance will eventually be compromised, increasing risk for more pain throughout the body as it tries to compensate for the changes.

Your posture is a result of how you stand and walk. So when your feet are injured, if you have fallen arches or lack support for weakened tendons the stress will travel up the body to other joints like your knees, hips and back. Not only does pain start at the top of the body and travel down, but it can also start at the bottom and travel up. Additionally, there are millions of nerves in your feet that send messages to your brain and can even affect your organ function.

Common causes of foot pain include plantar fasciitis, heel pain, Achilles tendinitis, bone spurs, bursitis, bunions, neuropathy, osteoarthritis, corns and calluses. If you experience foot pain first thing in the morning, it may be caused by inflammation due to injury or chronic disease. Stretching the muscles in the lower leg and foot as well as performing strengthening exercises can help minimize pain.

More than 90 percent of individuals with rheumatoid arthritis develop symptoms in the foot or ankle over the course of the disease. Aside from obvious pain, other symptoms to look for include dry, cracked skin around the heel or ball of the foot that could be a warning sign for a more serious condition than just seasonal dry skin. A combination of weight gain, vision problems and numbness in your hands along with dry, cracked skin could signal a thyroid issue.

Foot numbness or a loss of toe hair could mean an insufficient blood supply to the feet. Health conditions like hypertension or diabetes can contribute to poor blood flow leading to more serious problems down the road.

Don't take foot problems lightly or assume it will eventually go away. Talk with your doctor about any pain you may be experiencing. More often than not, foot problems are clues to other health issues that you may not be aware of.

Missy Corrigan is executive of community health for Sumter Family YMCA. She can be reached at or (803) 773-1404.