We’re now entering a season with an uptick in visits to foot doctors, says certified physician assistant Patrick Halbach, MS, MPAS, PA-C with Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin. Deer hunting season — closely rivaled by summer — is one of the busier times for foot and ankle specialists and orthopedic surgeons, he says. 

“We see people who’ve fallen off their deer stands or who’ve fallen while cleaning up leaves in the gutters,” Halbach says. During the warmer months, Halbach adds, they’ll typically see more patients who develop foot issues because they’re engaged in more activities outdoors. 

Foot injuries can range in terms of severity and how much they impact someone’s ability to continue day-to-day activities. 

Unlike other medical issues, foot problems can be particularly debilitating, Halbach says. “We get up in the morning, and the first thing we do is take some steps out of bed,” he says. “We use [our feet] every day.” 

Of course, feet weather a lot of wear throughout a person’s life, and foot issues can develop for a host of reasons, Halbach says. When people are more active and involved in more strenuous activities, they can experience trauma to their feet —fractures or damage to tendons and ligaments around the foot. 


Common Issues And Prevention Practices

Body size can also impact when and how foot issues surface. When we carry a little more weight on our bodies, we overload joints that are only designed to take so much, Halbach says. Other health conditions, such as diabetes, can influence foot health — as can how well a person maintains foot hygiene with practices like washing and moisturizing feet and trimming nails. 

Other times, however, there really is no known cause. “Sometimes, it’s just the way that we’re born and the structure of our feet,” Halbach says. If you’re born with an overly flat foot or a higher arch, you could be more susceptible to mechanical problems in your foot or ankle down the road, he adds. 

Though much may be out of our control, Halbach says there are a few general prevention practices that can ensure better foot health and ward off uncomfortable issues. Keeping feet moisturized, keeping toenails short and trimmed and rubbing down calluses with a pumice stone can keep feet in shape to support an active lifestyle. 

But perhaps one of the best things you can do for your feet, Halbach says, is to find a great pair of shoes. 

When he sees patients, Halbach will make patient-specific recommendations for footwear with a padded sole or rocker bottom, depending on the patient’s needs. Orthotic shoe inserts can also provide some needed support, and there are many over-the-counter options patients can try before spending money on equipment that requires a prescription. 

“It’s a matter of experimenting and finding the shoe that works best for the individual patient,” he says. 

If you do experience foot discomfort, many at-home treatments are available to try in addition to seeking medical treatment. Ultimately, if issues don’t resolve in two to four weeks, Halbach recommends seeking help to avoid further issues or continuing to miss the activities you love. 

Halbach shares the top foot ailments he sees patients for and recommendations for treating them.  


Plantar Fasciitis: Plantar fasciitis is one of the more painful ailments people can experience, and it can take a long time for this particular condition to improve, Halbach says. “It can really be debilitating for a lot of folks,” he notes.

Mayo Clinic defines plantar fasciitis as a condition where the tissue along the bottom of the foot becomes inflamed. People who suffer from plantar fasciitis experience a stabbing pain in the bottom of their foot near the heel, and it often feels much worse after periods of no movement, like a night of sleep. 

The American Academy of Family Physicians says stretching is one of the more effective treatments, but Halbach specifies that seeing a doctor is an important step in moving toward recovery for this condition. 

Diabetes-related issues: “Foot care is so important for diabetics,” Halbach says, because diabetes can cause changes in the nerves, making it more difficult for someone to feel their feet and identify more serious issues — a condition called diabetic peripheral neuropathy. According to the CDC, if left unattended, this condition can lead to ulcers that can become infected and ultimately lead to bone infection.

It’s critical that people with diabetes perform regular skin checks (or have a family member do them) and regular skin checks at least once per day, Halbach says. Wearing proper footwear (and not walking around barefoot) and keeping skin moisturized are also critical preventative measures that diabetics should have on their radar as well, he says. Any redness or swelling is something that would at least warrant a call to the doctor. 

Hammertoe: With this condition, the middle joint in the toe points out, causing the toe to buckle, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine. It develops as a result of toes functioning differently than they should and can be worsened by poorly-fitting shoes, Halbach says.

Halbach will do as much as he can with changing footwear before resorting to surgery, but ultimately surgery may be needed. As with other foot issues, properly-fitting footwear is critical in preventing hammertoe and helping to reduce pain.

Gout: Gout is another foot ailment that can be just excruciating, Halbach says. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), this inflammatory condition is the result of high levels of serum urate which form needle-shaped crystals around the joint and cause pain and swelling in the joints. Halbach adds that gout can be diet-dependent, but there are also events where it occurs for an unrelated reason. Though the gout attack will resolve with time, Halbach says it’s common for people to see a doctor for an anti-inflammatory medication to help manage pain. 

Bunions: Bunions are often related to genetics and the shape of the foot, but footwear can play a critical part in preventing it from getting worse. Behaviors like wearing tight-pointed shoes can exacerbate the condition, causing it to develop more quickly, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine. 

Wearing devices like toe spacers and footwear with a wider shoebox are the best methods of significant relief for this condition, Halbach says. For severe cases, surgery can also be an option. 

Athlete’s foot: This skin condition is a fungal infection on the foot that is often the result of sweaty feet held in confining footwear. And, the itchy, scaly skin rash can be quite contagious, according to Mayo Clinic. 

Prevention is really helpful here, Halbach says — practicing good hygiene and avoiding exposing the feet to overly damp conditions for too long. If you’re in need of treatment, Halbach says a basic over-the-counter medication can get you relatively far. If you’re in need of something a bit stronger, there are prescription options to try, too. 

Toenail fungus: According to the CDC, as much as 14 percent of the population deals with issues related to toenail fungus, a condition where the nails suffer a fungal infection that leads to discolored, thick or fragile toenails. 

Treating toenail fungus can “be a pretty long undertaking,” Halbach says, due to the extended period of time the treatment takes. Some antifungal medications take as long as six to nine months to take effect, and medications can yield some unpleasant side effects that can be difficult to weather for a long period of time. Cutting back nails and keeping them healthy is a better bet — and can sometimes help funguses clear up on their own. 

Blisters and corns: Repetitive pressure from poorly-fitting footwear can really wreak havoc on a foot, causing a host of uncomfortable issues, including blisters and corns. Blisters (fluid-filled pockets under the skin) and corns (hard calluses) are easily prevented by finding a properly fitting shoe that allows feet to move without pressure or excessive friction, Halbach says. “If you feel rubbing or anything, that’s probably a sign that that’s not the best shoe for you,” he adds. 


Regardless of the foot ailment you may be experiencing, Halbach says it’s important to seek help when issues persist because of the critical role feet plan in our day-to-day lives. 

“If you have an issue with your arm, you can use the other one or not put weight on it all of the time,” he says. “But every time you take a step, you’re using your feet. They’re very important to us being able to do the things we enjoy and the things we need to do.” 

A physician or care provider can recommend something as simple as the right over-the-counter or prescription medication or help find the right footwear, which can make the difference in eliminating significant pain and bringing you back to a more active lifestyle. MKE