Your feet – indicators of health
Because they are so far away from our heart, our feet are often the first part of the body to show something is wrong with the way blood is circulating.
The condition of our toenails can signal the presence of the beginning of several diseases. For example, toenails that are thin, upward curving and with raised ridges on the surface can indicate iron deficiency or anaemia (a shortage of iron carried by the blood). Increased nail thickness, or bumps on the nail, can be manifestations of psoriasis, an inherited skin condition.
Your podiatrist will check the condition of your toenails and can discuss the health implications of their appearance or provide a range of treatments for some toenail problems.
The major parts of the toenail are: the nail itself (nail plate); the matrix, from where the nail grows; the lunula, the white moon-shaped area at the base of the nail; the nail bed, the tissue on which the nail lies; and the sulcus, the groove at the side in which the nail sits.
Toenails grow constantly. Healthy nails are pink, free of dirt and impairment and grow along the grooves normally. It takes up to 12 months to replace the toenail of your big toe.
Who gets nail problems?
Toenails of people of all ages can undergo a range of changes, come of which are relatively common. They can become thick, brittle, curved, discoloured, infected, bumpy and grooved. In some cases, the nail falls off and a new one grows. As we grow older, we are more likely to develop toenail problems.
What causes nail problems?
Toenail problems may be causes by warts, tumours under the nail, trauma, infection or poor circulation. Major toenail problems can be caused by incorrectly fitting shoes, which press too tightly on the toenails. Injury, such as bruising under the nail and infection, can cause permanent nail deformity.
Common conditions and treatment
Ingrown toenails are common toenail problems. They may be caused by improperly trimmed toenails, very curved edges of nails, pressure or repeated trauma to the feet from normal activities. The tendency to get ingrown toenails may also be inherited. Pain in the groove (sulcus) of the toenail can also be due to a corn or callus under the nail edge.
Most cases will require conservative treatment, while others may need a minor surgical correction that can conducted in your podiatrist’s rooms using a local anaesthetic.
Thickened nails: is a common condition; a single thickened nail is usually the result of injury to the nail bed, such as dropping something heavy on your toes, or fungal infection. They can be easily and painlessly thinned down by your podiatrist.
Fungal infections: are amongst the most troublesome of nail conditions to treat. They are often characterised by thickening, discolouration and separation of the nail from the nail bed. In some cases, the nail crumbles. These infections tend to stay in the nail if they are not treated, and can infect the nail bed.
There are a range of anti-fungal medications available for treatment. Your podiatrist can assist with trimming and care of out-of-shape nails.
Other infections: causes inflammation of the matric (onychia) and inflammation of the tissue adjacent to the nail (paronychia). In people with lowered immunity, this may lead to serious complications, including more widespread infection extending up the leg. Your podiatrist can assist in detecting such infections early and form a suitable treatment plan.
Trauma: to the nails may lead to permanent nail deformity. This can be cared for by regular, non-painful podiatric treatment, involving filing and possibly the use of a special drill.
Older people with poor circulation are prone to fragile, brittle or thickened nails.
Many older people do not have the strength, flexibility or eyesight to trim their nails, especially if the nails are deformed. They should seek podiatric care for these services and give advice regarding safe self-care.
Any sudden changed in colour or shape of the nail, sign of infection, development of a freckle under the nail or pain should be discussed with your podiatrist. Your portraitist can diagnose the problem and then offer an appropriate treatment.
Taking care of your nails
- Trim toenails straight across to a length just below the end of the toe
- Use a strong pair of nail clippers
- After clipping, smooth nails with a file or emery board, using downward strokes
- Wear only properly fitted shoes, not short or narrow ones
- Wash feet regularly especially between the toes, and dry thoroughly
- Wear socks or stockings that are not too restrictive, unless they’re prescribed.