(StatePoint) From the beach to the backyard, taking care of your feet and ankles in summer is essential.
“Nothing ruins summer fun faster than a problem with your feet. However, a few smart precautions can help keep you healthy and safe,” says Gretchen Lawrence, DPM, AACFAS, a board-certified foot and ankle surgeon and an associate member of the American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons (ACFAS).
To help you understand some of the most common summer risks to feet and how to avoid them, ACFAS is sharing these insights:
• Puncture wounds: Millions of Americans go barefoot every summer, and thousands will sustain cuts and puncture wounds. To prevent injury and infection, wear shoes whenever possible and get vaccinated against tetanus. If you do get a puncture wound, see a foot and ankle surgeon within 24 hours and don’t swim until it’s healed. Bacteria in oceans and lakes can cause infection.
• Pool problems: Always wear flip flops or other footwear in locker rooms and on pool decks to prevent contact with bacteria and viruses that can cause athlete’s foot, plantar warts and other problems.
• Sun damage and skin cancer: Don’t overlook your feet during your sun protection routine. Feet get sunburned too, and melanoma on the foot or ankle is more likely to be misdiagnosed than on any other part of the body. A study published in “The Journal of Foot & Ankle Surgery” reported the overall survival rate for melanoma of the foot or ankle is just 52%, in sharp contrast to the 85% survival rate for melanomas on other areas of the body. Apply sunscreen to the tops and bottoms of feet and limit sun exposure. Dr. Lawrence notes, “If you spot abnormal moles or pigmented skin, including under toenails, visit a foot and ankle surgeon. Early detection and treatment could save your life.”
• Pains and sprains: Summer sports can lead to arch pain, heel pain, ankle sprains and other injuries. Proper footwear with heel cushioning and arch support is essential, particularly on uneven surfaces, such as sandy beaches or hiking trails. If injury occurs, use the RICE approach: rest, ice, compression and elevation to ease pain and swelling. Any injury that doesn’t resolve within a few days should be examined by a foot and ankle surgeon.
• Mower risks: Some 25,000 Americans sustain injuries from power mowers annually, according to the U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission. Many of these injuries are preventable. Always cut the grass in protective shoes or work boots and keep children away during this chore. Never mow a wet lawn or pull the mower backward, and always mow across slopes, not up or down them.
• Travel concerns: Sitting for long stretches can increase the risk of dangerous blood clots. “Whether road tripping or flying, regularly stretch your legs and pump your feet to circulate blood. Wearing compression socks for longer travel is also a good idea,” says Dr. Lawrence.
• Diabetes complications: If you have diabetes, prolonged hot and humid weather can lead to numerous foot woes. Any type of skin break has the potential to get infected if it isn’t noticed right away, and exposure can cause dry, cracking skin. Inspect your feet daily and wear closed shoes whenever possible. Swelling is another hot-weather risk, potentially making shoes fit tighter which can cause blisters. Compression stockings may not sound appealing in hot temperatures, but they can reduce swelling and help prevent poor circulation. Finally, never go barefoot in summer. Impaired nerve sensation can make it hard to detect just how hot surfaces are. Just a few minutes walking barefoot on pavement to grab the newspaper can cause third-degree burns.
For more information and to find a foot and ankle surgeon near you, visit FootHealthFacts.org, the patient education website for the American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons.