No matter how much of a road warrior you are, our review of the most common foot problems of athletes, and how to treat them, will give you the confidence to hang 10 with pride.
The fungal culprits that cause athlete's foot and toenail fungus lurk in locker rooms, gym showers and public pools. Symptoms of athlete's foot include dry, red, flaky, itchy skin on the soles, sides of the feet or between the toes.
Toenails that have turned yellow or brown, or have swelled and thickened, are also signs of a fungus infection, which can seep in through a small cut or scratch in the nail. Foot fungus is very contagious, so treat it promptly to prevent it from spreading.
Treat it with any of a number of non-prescription antifungal medications available in drugstores. Usually, these over-the-counter treatments will do the trick. If not, consult your doctor about something stronger. Also, nail polish can seal in fungus and allow it to grow, so keep your toes unpainted until the condition has cleared.
Prevent it by keeping your feet clean and dry, since fungus loves warm, damp environments. Wear flip-flops while showering at the gym and towel dry your feet completely, especially between the toes.
Air out your gym or running shoes between workouts, and wear socks made of synthetic fabrics designed to pull moisture away from your feet. Manhattan podiatrist Oliver Zong recommends using foot powder or antiperspirant on the bottom of your feet to control sweat, as well as foot odor.
Ill-fitting socks or shoes create friction, yielding fluid-filled blisters that can result in discomfort. Most blisters can be self-treated or will heal on their own. The key is to avoid infecting them by keeping the skin covering, or "roof," intact and keeping bacteria-laden hands away.
Treat it by leaving it be, in most cases. A friction blister smaller than about an inch across will heal in a few days. Keep the roof in place, and clean it with rubbing alcohol or soap and water. Protect it loosely with a bandage or moleskin if it's in a place where friction persists. Otherwise, you can let it air out.
For larger blisters, drain the fluid by gently poking it at the edge of the blister with a clean needle (heat it over a flame and then allow it to cool).
Prevent it by wearing properly fitting shoes to eliminate rubbing and sweat-wicking socks to reduce moisture. Try thicker socks with more padding in problem areas, or protect hot spots by covering them with bandages or moleskin (try PediFix Gel MoleSkin, $6.50, drugstores) during workouts.
Redness, swelling and pain on the side of the nail, usually on the big toe, signal a nail is growing into the skin instead of outward. Although the most common source of ingrown toenails is clipping them incorrectly, repeatedly jamming your big toenail against the top of a snug running or street shoe doesn't help either.
Treat it by soaking the affected toe and gently separating the nail from the skin so it grows correctly. Dedee Bailey of Elizabeth Arden Red Door Spa in Northbrook, Ill., suggests repeatedly dipping your toe in a mixture of Epsom salts and hot water.
"Hold it in the water for as long as you can stand the heat, then take it out. Repeat until the water cools down." This should relieve the tension, tightness and irritability of the skin around the nail.
Then, using a cotton swab coated in alcohol or hydrogen peroxide, gently wedge it under the nail to release some of the pressure. Do this twice daily until the nail starts to grow out of the skin. If this at-home remedy doesn't work, see your doctor. She may have to cut out the ingrown part of the nail herself.
Prevent it by trimming your nails even with the tips of your toes, no shorter. Cut straight across the nail and file down sharp corners to keep them from poking into the skin. Again, wear shoes that fit correctly to give your toes some wiggle room.
Corns and calluses
Besides causing blisters, repeated friction or pressure can yield corns and calluses, which result when dead skin cells gather to protect the area. Hard corns, kernel-sized bumps surrounded by yellowish skin, usually grow on the top of the toe.Soft corns are sore-like spots that develop between the toes when they rub together. The larger, thicker patches of hardened skin on the bottom, sides or balls of the feet are calluses.
Treat it by rubbing the dead skin away. Soak your feet to soften the tissue and use a pumice stone or callus file. Wearing corn pads can help alleviate pressure against the shoe while you're treating a hard corn. And a bit of lamb's wool between the toes can help cushion soft corns. Don't try to trim the dead skin with scissors or a blade. If corns or calluses become painful or infected, see your doctor.
Prevent it -- you guessed it -- by wearing shoes that fit correctly. Or try shoes made of soft material or linings. For calluses, an orthotic insert may help transfer pressure away from a susceptible spot, and regularly moisturizing the area also helps.
New York City-based beauty guru Nicole Grippo studies different product lines and the effectiveness of their ingredients. Nicole has written for magazines like Redbook and For Me. When she's not catching up on the latest in beauty science, she stays fit by running, lifting free weights and working up a sweat on the elliptical machine.