If your toes could talk

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Feet rank low on the list of health priorities for many Americans, but nearly 80% of adults have experienced some form of foot ache, pain, itch or other condition in their lifetime, according to a survey from the American Podiatric Medical Association. Toenail problems are the most common, followed by sweaty feet and pain of the ball of the foot and heel. Here are four tips to help sidestep these and other ailments and keep your tootsies in tip-top shape:

Do a daily foot check: Take a good look at your toenails, and not just for polish chips -- if they're thick or discolored, it could indicate a developing fungus. Also, pay attention to changes in skin color or texture, such as cracks, cuts or peeling and scaling on the soles (a sign of athlete's foot). Any growth on the foot is not normal; neither is pain. Joint stiffness, for example, could mean arthritis; tingling or numbness could be a sign of diabetes. See your doctor or podiatrist about changes in your feet, especially if you have diabetes, which can make you prone to infection and more serious complications.

Trim toenails straight, not curved: Rounded edges increase the chance of developing ingrown toenails, so keep the shape squared and the length even with the tips of your toes. Cut too short and pressure from your shoes may push the nail to grow into the corner of your fleshy toe, causing redness, swelling and infection around the nail, plus pain and tenderness. High heels (particularly the pointy-toed kind) are a leading cause of ingrown toenails, podiatrists at Loyola University Health System reported recently.

Swipe antiperspirant on your soles: It's a way to keep feet dry and help protect against a number of conditions, including fungal infections, blisters, warts and sweaty, smelly feet (a problem that affects a third of Americans). Rubbing cornstarch on the bottom of your feet helps, too; so does airing out sweaty shoes before wearing them again and choosing natural or synthetic-blend socks that wick away moisture. Also important: After washing your feet, be sure to dry carefully, especially between the toes.

Spring-clean your shoe rack: Every pair should cushion, support and fit properly (with enough room for your toes). Replace well-worn shoes and toss flimsy flip-flops -- any pair you can fold in half or easily twist is no good for feet. Instead, look for sturdier flip-flops that have arch support to help prevent pain and are made of soft leather to minimize blisters and irritations. The best time to shoe-shop? Late in the day, when your feet tend to be largest.

• The Doctors is an Emmy-winning daytime TV show with pediatrician Jim Sears, OB-GYN Lisa Masterson, ER physician Travis Stork, and plastic surgeon Andrew Ordon. Check www.thedoctorstv.com for local listings.


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