What Your Feet Say About Your Health
Allison Bush | Jul 31st 2013 Jun 20th 2017
Reviewed by: Robert Hurd, MD
Believe it or not, your feet are a good barometer of your overall health. From a pesky foot pain to more serious symptoms like numbness, your feet often show symptoms of disease before any other part of your body.
No hair on your feet or toes
“Bald” feet can be a sign of poor circulation as a result of vascular disease. What can you do? Although the hair may never return (which isn’t necessarily a terrible thing!), you’ll want to see a doctor about improving your circulation and getting your vascular health in check.
A persistent sore on your foot
If you have a wound on your foot that just won’t heal, you could be at risk for diabetes. Elevated blood glucose levels over time can lead to nerve damage in the feet, and so you may not feel an ulcer on your the bottom of your foot. Left untreated, this can lead to serious consequences, even to amputation. Check your shoes to make sure there are no rough areas that are contributing to skin breakdown.
For women, cold feet may indicate an “underfunctioning” thyroid problem, which is the gland that regulates temperature and metabolism. Poor circulation is another possible cause for both men and women. The solution: Aside from potential thyroid medications, there’s not much you can do other than bundle up your feet in thick wool socks and slippers to keep warm.
Thick, yellow toenails
If one or more of your toenails starts to thicken, change color, and separate from the skin, it probably means you have a fungal infection living beneath the toenail. People with diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and other immune deficiencies may be more susceptible than others in contracting toenail fungus. The solution: See a podiatrist or internist for care and treatment.
An enlarged big toe
If your big toe suddenly blows up, you may be experiencing gout. This medieval-sounding disease is actually a form of arthritis and is caused by the build up of the natural substance, uric acid. Why the big toe? The excess uric acid forms in the body part with the lowest temperature, which just happens to be your big toe.
Numbness in both feet
Having a persistent “pins and needles” feeling in your feet, or actual loss of feeling, can be a sign of peripheral neuropathy. Peripheral neuropathy means there’s been some damage to your peripheral nervous system and can be caused by several things, but the most common are diabetes and alcohol abuse. The solution: See your doctor and explain your symptoms.
The skin condition psoriasis can also manifest itself in your toenails. Affecting up to half of those living with psoriasis may find their toenails (and fingernails) to have many tiny holes. People with the related joint condition, psoriatic arthritis, also may experience this issue. The solution: There are currently several medications on the market to treat the symptoms associated with psoriasis and psoriatic psoriasis.
Shooting pain in the heel
A shooting pain in your heel may be a sign of plantar fasciitis, which means the band of connective tissue running along the bottom of your foot is inflamed. The pain is usually concentrated in the heel and gets worse throughout the day. The solution: If you have persistant pain, see a podiatrist and avoid high heeled shoes.
Toenails with spoon-shaped indentations
Sunken toenails could be a sign of anemia. Anemia often shows up in toenails with concave or spoonlike indentations in the toes’ nail beds, and is most prevalent in moderate-to-severe cases. To be sure, your doctor will want to do a complete blood count.
Sudden, one-off instances of foot cramping may just mean you’re dehydrated or exercising too hard, but if you have chronic foot cramping, you may be lacking calcium, potassium, or magnesium in your diet. If you experience frequent cramping, try stretching your feet before bed and eating more calcium-rich foods.
Sore toe joints may be a sign of the degenerative joint disease, rheumatoid arthritis (RA). RA typically attacks smaller joints first - like joints in the wrist and toes, so pay attention if you have a persistent achy feeling or swelling.
Inability to lift foot
The inability to raise the foot upward from the heel is called “drop foot.” This could be the result of nerve damage or trauma in your neck, back, or leg. If you experience this, you should contact your doctor immediately, since this can be reversed or permanent, depending on what caused it and how it’s treated.
Dry, flaky skin on the feet could be a sign of athlete’s foot, which is a fungal infection. Athlete’s foot usually shows up between the first two toes and usually starts as dry, itchy skin that then progresses to inflammation and blisters. If you suspect you have athlete’s foot, be sure to keep your feet clean and dry.
Red or blue toes
Toes that show a variation of color - from white, to blue, to red - may be experiencing a symptom of Raynaud’s disease. The colors appear as the vessels spasm. If you experience this, see a doctor to make sure there isn’t an underlying condition.