Put Your Best Foot Forward

Feet aren’t just feet. You can have a lead foot when you drive, be quick on your feet (even while you’re sitting down), or just keep putting one foot in front of the other; dance with two left feet or show off your happy feet. Still, despite all the expressions lavished on them, it still seems as if feet, as feet, are pretty much ignored.

Unless you do a lot of running, hiking or are in the cast of Riverdance, when was the last time you really thought about your feet? It’s not as if they come up very often in conversation: “Well, yes, he’s pretty short and he’s losing his hair, but he has really beautiful feet!” No, afraid not.

So, why should you care? Why not just shove them into some good-looking shoes and get on with life? Because they’re your feet. You walk on them (even the modern urban American man takes over 7,000 steps a day), stand on them, climb stairs, dance at your sister’s wedding with them and proudly display them on the coffee table while you watch re-runs of Big Bang Theory. They may be way down there, at the opposite of end of your body, but they’re still your feet and you’re responsible for them.

Like any other part of your body, your feet require some attention and care. If you treat them right, they’ll look better, be more pleasant to have around (you know what we mean) and, best of all, they’ll feel better. That last part isn’t just a lucky guess, either: At least 75% of all Americans report some pretty serious foot pain at least once in their lives. Except for some types of health conditions or being really stupid with a chain saw, however, most foot problems area easily reversible.

The best way to make a start on taking care of your feet is to visit a podiatrist. Why shouldn’t you? You go to a dentist for a checkup every year, so it’s only common sense that you see an expert on feet. It’s not as if you’re indulging in a pedicure; this is a medical checkup. You’ll not only get some immediate relief for some of the conditions that are making your feet uncomfortable – if not downright painful – but also some good advice and help to take care of them in the future.

How To Prepare

Oddly enough, the best thing you can do is to avoid doing anything special. Don’t try to clip, scrape or trim in a sudden rush just before your appointment, to make them more presentable. The podiatrist can get more information from seeing your feet in their natural state. Wash them well before you go, of course, and be sure to take along any creams, salves or other treatments you use. Wear the pair of shoes you consider to be your favorite, or most comfortable, but also take along in a bag any other pairs that you wear frequently.

What To Expect

In most practices, the examination will be on a combination of a standard doctor’s table and barber’s chair (without the arms or footrest). The podiatrist will probably ask you some questions about your walking habits, as well as any special sports or activities, as he gives your feet a careful look. Unless your feet show some pretty severe deformities, you probably won’t have to have any x-rays taken, but he will probably do a sensation test: While your eyes are closed, he’ll touch parts of your feet with a flexible monofilament (basically, a short piece of fishing line) to see if there are any areas of numbness.

If you have a heavy build-up of callouses or bunions, the podiatrist may trim them off. Your toenails will also probably be trimmed, if they need it. In some cases, a power tool like a Dremel will be used to help with callouses or nails. Your shoes will also get a once-over; the wear patterns will tell the podiatrist a lot about how you walk. All of this won’t take very long, but as he talks to you about your feet, be sure to pay attention: What he tells you will help you keep your feet in better shape.

Finally, you’ll probably get some instructions on foot care, including callous and nail care and foot baths. If he thinks you need them, he may prescribe (or recommend over-the-counter versions of) urea creams to keep your callouses down, anti-fungal treatments if your nails need them, athlete’s foot cream if necessary and possibly sole inserts. In all likelihood, you’ll also get an appointment for a follow-up exam six or nine months ahead.

Care Afterwards

What happens next is up to you. On the one hand, you can consider this to be just a tune-up for your feet, or you can actually take the hand-outs you’ll receive and the list of treatments and supplies you get and actually launch on a program of foot care. Some of the advice you get will seem like common sense (firm sole inserts provide better support than the squishy jelly ones) while others you may not have thought about (always dry off the skin between your toes, and add powder if you can) or seem counter-intuitive (don’t wear all-cotton socks, since they tend to trap moisture and can become bacterial breeding grounds). Applying the foot creams and taking occasional foot baths may seem to take extra time and trouble, but if you follow the advice you’ll notice the difference.

All of this is just one more detail in the set of proper care. That’s the cost of being presentable, though. It’s the mark of a civilized, urbane man that he takes care of himself from his head right down to his, well, his feet.

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