CHANCES are when it comes to your health, the last thing you will worry about is your feet.
But, changes in the appearance of your feet, from swollen ankles to dry patches and pitted toenails can be more than just unsightly.
You may not think it, but these subtle signs may be the body’s way of signalling that there is something wrong.
Here, a team of experts reveal what your feet are trying to tell you about your health.
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1. SIGN – Swollen ankles
WHAT CAN IT MEAN? Oedema
Cankles – that dreaded situation when your calf morphs into your ankle, with seemingly no hint of a distinction.
For some it is a matter of genetics, but for others a puffy ankle can rear its ugly head out of the blue.
When swollen ankles creep up, it can merely be a sign you’ve been on your feet all day.
But, it can also suggest a person is suffering oedema – a condition where you have an excess of watery fluid collecting around your ankle.
Kimby Osborne, leg health expert, at Activa Healthcare explained: “Oedema and general swelling of the legs can often go down naturally, for example at the end of the day once you put your feet up.
“However, if the condition persists, visit your GP who may prescribe you compression stockings, such as the Unisex Sock from Activa Healthcare.”
Compression hosiery is designed to provide the right amount of compression on a person’s legs, helping to improve blood flow and prevent a build-up of fluid in the tissue.
It’s that build-up of fluid that can often cause swelling and discomfort.
2. SIGN – Pitted toenails
WHAT CAN IT MEAN? Psoriasis
You may have noticed you have pitted toenails, and merely thought “it’s just one of those things”.
But, the condition can in fact be a sign of the common but chronic skin condition, psoriasis.
For those with the condition, it is vital to keep the skin hydrated.
Nutritionist Cassandra Barns told The Sun Online: “Keeping the skin moist and nourished from the outside is crucial, as it can bring instant relief from itchiness and discomfort.”
However, she said many creams that are recommended by doctors and pharmacists rarely provide long-term relief.
“What’s more they can irritate already inflamed skin, as they often contain chemicals,” she said.
Instead, Cassandra suggested trying a natural cream or balm, such as What Skin Needs Skin Balm.
The powerful blend of natural Plantolin – an extract from an Australian indigenous plant, along with Aloe Vera extract and tea tree essential oil can “help manage skin conditions by reducing inflammation and oxidative damage”, Cassandra added.
“The formula as a whole is designed to reduce irritation, soothe and repair dry and damaged skin.”
3. SIGN – Extremely dry feet
WHAT CAN IT MEAN? Arterial disease or athletes foot
It could be your feet are dry as a result of non-moisturising soap, hot showers or baths or just a fact of life as you age.
But, if you notice your feet are excessively dry, it could be a sign of something more serious.
It can suggest you’re suffering poor circulation, as a result of arterial disease.
This is where the arteries harden, as plaque gradually builds up inside the blood vessels, which in turn increases the risk of suffering a heart attack.
Excessively dry skin on the feet can also be a sign a person is suffering athletes foot.
Podiatrist Michael Ratcliffe, from Carnation Footcare, advised trying to treat the dry skin first, to determine if there is an underlying health problem.
“Research reports that callouses, corns, dry skin and heel skin fissures are less hydrated and less elastic than unaffected normal skin, so moisturising the skin daily restores hydration and elasticity reducing the build-up of skin conditions,” he said.
“I’d suggest then gently reducing hard skin before it develops into cracked and painful areas using Carnation’s Silky Feet Hard Skin Remover.
“If the hard skin becomes painful then consult with your doctor or podiatrist.”
4. SIGN – Cramps
WHAT CAN IT MEAN? Lack of magnesium, calcium or potassium
We’ve all suffered an excruciating bout of cramp in the foot, often flaring up at the worst of times, when trying on new shoes or while you’re nodding off to sleep.
It could be a case of you needing to drink more water.
But, repeated bouts of cramp can be a sign that you’re not getting enough magnesium, calcium or potassium.
To boost magnesium levels, it can be worth taking a supplement in the evening, said Cassandra.
The later you take it, the more likely it is that cramp will disturb your sleep.
Meanwhile, dairy products are rich in calcium, as are green leafy veg, fish, tofu, nuts, seeds and oranges.
“Vitamin D is necessary for healthy bones because it increases calcium absorption,” she added.
“Much of our vitamin D is synthesised in our skin on exposure to sunlight – however we may also need additional supplies in our diet.
“Dietary traces of vitamin D include: avocado, egg yolks, butter and fish oil.”
5. SIGN – Cold feet
WHAT CAN IT MEAN? Hormone deficiency
Are you plagued by freezing cold tootsies?
If you constantly feel you are battling cold feet, it could be a sign your thyroid isn’t working as it should.
As a result, it may be you’re not producing enough hormones that are vital to regulate your metabolism.
A side effect of this condition can be that your body’s ability to generate heat is affected and that’s why your hands and feet may always be cold.
To help keep your feet toasty, make sure you choose the right socks.
“During the winter months our extremities, such as our feet tend to suffer the most from the cold,” said Michael.
“It’s really important to keep your feet well insulated during this time.
“Unfortunately woolly socks may keep our feet warm, but they tend to make our feet sweat more.
“For toasty, fresh feet this Christmas I would recommend Carnation Footcare’s Silversocks, which are made with pure silver threads.
“These unique fibres act as a natural heat thermostat, regulating foot temperature and helping to keep toes toasty when the temperature drops.
“The silver will not wash out or lose its thermal and antibacterial properties over time, so will keep your feet warm from winter to winter.”