Feet

How do I treat an ingrown toenail?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I have a very painful ingrown toenail. What can I do?

DEAR READER: It's been my experience that toenails get a little unruly as we get older. They seem to fit the toes perfectly well for decades, and then they start doing funny things -- the sides start to curl, for instance, and suddenly the nail is pressing against the skin of the toe.

I have a patch of hard skin on my foot — What is it and how should I treat it?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I have a patch of hard skin on my foot. Is it a corn or a callus? How should I treat it?

DEAR READER: I can't answer your question without seeing it. But I can tell you what to look for, and when it requires a visit to your doctor. Corns and calluses are areas of hardened skin. They develop to protect the foot from the damage that can be caused by friction from poorly fitting shoes.

My doctor thinks the pain in the ball of my foot is caused by a Morton’s neuroma– How did I get this?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I have pain in the ball of my foot. My doctor thinks it is caused by a Morton's neuroma. How did I get this, and what can I do about it?

DEAR READER: Morton's neuroma is a swelling of the nerve between the bones at the base of the toes in the ball of the foot. The pain it causes usually is in one spot. It can feel like you have a pebble in your shoe. Once the nerve starts to swell, the nearby bones and ligaments put pressure on the nerve, worsening the irritation and inflammation.

I have Achilles tendinitis — what can I do to ease the pain in my foot?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I have Achilles tendinitis. What can I do to ease the pain in my foot?

DEAR READER: Your Achilles tendon -- a rope of sturdy tissue that connects muscle to bone -- runs up the back of your heel. Achilles tendinitis occurs when the tendon becomes inflamed. This causes pain and sometimes tenderness and swelling in the back of the heel.

What should I look for when choosing a healthy, supportive shoe?

DEAR DOCTOR K: You've often advised readers to buy supportive shoes that fit properly. Can you be more specific about what to look for in a good shoe?

DEAR READER: Buying the right shoe is an investment in your foot health. But how do you identify the "right" shoe? The bottom line is how you feel when you put them on.

Are drugstore foot-care products effective?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I see lots of products designed to treat foot problems -- and I have lots of foot problems. Are the foot care products you can buy in the drugstore worth the money?

DEAR READER: For some body parts, the drugstore has little to offer. But you're right: There are many foot products. To find out if they're really helpful, I checked with my colleague, Dr. James P. Ioli, assistant professor of orthopedic surgery at Harvard Medical School. Here are our thoughts on some common foot care products.

I have an open sore on the bottom of my foot — do I need to see a doctor?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I have an open sore on the bottom of my foot. Can I just cover it with a Band-Aid until it heals, or do I need to see a doctor?

DEAR READER: I am glad you asked this question, because in most circumstances, just covering it with a Band-Aid is a really bad idea. I'm guessing that this "sore" is more than some redness of the skin. I assume it is a little hole or crater, and that the top skin of the sole of your foot is gone. If that's the case, what you've got is called a foot ulcer. If you have a foot ulcer, you should see your doctor.

How is plantar fasciitis treated?

DEAR DOCTOR K:

I have plantar fasciitis. Can I use a drugstore product to treat it? Or should I see a doctor?

DEAR READER:

Plantar fasciitis is heel pain caused by inflammation of the plantar fascia, a ligament-like structure that runs from your heel to the ball of your foot. Plantar fasciitis can occur when too much pressure or strain is placed on the plantar fascia.

My toenail turned black after an injury — what should I do?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I hurt my toe and now the nail has turned black. What can I do?

DEAR READER: Ouch -- I've been there. A couple of years ago I was outdoors and turned around to walk in the opposite direction, and boom! My big toe hit a lamppost. At least my toe got there before my face did. A day or two later the toenail was black and blue, and the day after that it hurt a lot. What I had, and what you probably have, is blood under the nail, a condition called subungual hematoma.

How can I get relief from foot pain caused by a Morton’s neuroma?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I have a painful pinched nerve in my foot. What are my treatment options?

DEAR READER: The medical term for a pinched or compressed nerve that causes pain and swelling is a neuroma. Neuromas that occur in the sole of the foot are called Morton's neuromas and are particularly common. They occur in between the third and fourth toes or between the second and third toes.