Keeping your feet healthy


Keeping your feet healthy can help to prevent falls. This includes caring for your feet and choosing suitable footwear.

Foot problems can include:

  • corns and calluses (hard or thick areas of skin that can be painful)
  • bunions (when the big or little toe moves towards the other toes, the joint sticks out and looks like a bony lump)
  • ingrown toenail (where the nail grows into the toe)
  • athlete’s foot (a fungal infection that affects the feet)
  • painful soles
  • arthritis, which can make the foot painful and less stable

To prevent these conditions or help with the symptoms, it's important to:

You also need to speak with your GP about managing any health conditions, such as poor circulation or diabetes.

How to look after your feet

Not looking after your feet properly can cause foot problems. It's important to take care of them.

Washing your feet

Wash your feet every day if you can using warm water and soap. A nail brush is also useful. Do not soak your feet for longer than 10 minutes. 

Dry your feet well with a clean towel, especially between the toes.

If your feet sweat a lot, you can:

  • buy an antiperspirant spray for your feet
  • wear socks made of natural rather than man-made (synthetic) materials
  • change your socks throughout the day if they feel wet

Keeping your feet soft

Moisturising your feet helps to prevent dry skin. The massage movement (motion) can also help your circulation.

An emollient is a liquid or cream that you put on your skin to make it softer or ease pain. Put an emollient on your feet every day, but not between your toes. Do not use too much cream because it will not soak in. Make sure that you do not walk straight away. Your feet may be slippery and you might fall.

You can remove hard skin 2 times a week using a pumice stone or an emery board when the skin is dry. If you have diabetes, ask your doctor or foot health professional (podiatrist) before doing this.

For corns and calluses, patches can help to soften the hard skin. It can then be removed. The patches are available from your local pharmacy. They are not suitable for people with diabetes. Using an emollient works just as well.

Toenail care

Trim your toenails regularly by cutting them straight across. Do not cut around the corners because this can cause ingrown toenails (where a nail grows into the toe). Nail clippers can help.

If you have an ingrown toenail, look out for signs of infection. 

See a GP if:

  • your toe looks red (this may be less noticeable on brown or black skin) and swollen
  • your toe feels hot
  • you notice blood or pus (a thick yellowish liquid)

Age UK has a toenail cutting service in Lewisham and Southwark called Happy Feet. It's for people over the age of 50. You can visit the team at a local centre. There is a charge for the service. You can contact them for more information or to arrange an appointment. Phone 020 7358 4077 or email [email protected]

Choosing the right footwear

If you wear suitable shoes that fit well, are comfortable and have good support, this will help to prevent falls.

You get a bunion when your big toe moves towards the other toes and makes the joint stick out. This feels and looks like a bony lump. It can also happen to your little toe. Wearing the wrong shoes could make bunions worse.

What shoes to wear

Good shoes have support around the heel and over the top of your foot (such as laces, Velcro straps or T-bar straps).

Make sure that your toes have enough room to move. Your toes should not touch the end of your shoe. There should be about a 1cm gap and you should be able to wriggle your toes up and down inside your shoe. This prevents corns, damage to your nails and hard skin on the end of your toes.

It is important to wear deep shoes if you have clawed or hammer toes (when your toes are permanently bent or curled instead of pointed forward). Otherwise, you can get corns and hard skin on the tops of your toes. A stretchy soft front part of the shoe can help.

Do wear shoes with:

  • support around the heel and over the top of your foot
  • soft, flexible and cushioned soles. These absorb shock and make your feet feel more comfortable
  • leather or breathable man-made (synthetic) shoe uppers (the entire part of the shoe that covers the foot). This allows air to circulate around the foot
  • low heels, which are about the width of the shoe. They give stability, so you are less likely to fall or sprain your ankle. Low heels also stop pressure building up over the balls of the feet
  • round or square toes. They give more space, which is important if you have bunions or hard skin on your little toes

Do not wear shoes:

  • do not wear slip-on shoes. If you wear shoes without a proper fastening, you curl your toes to keep the shoes on your feet
  • do not wear shoes made from plastic or synthetic materials. They stop sweat evaporating. Your feet get hot, which can cause fungal infections

Tips for buying new shoes

Your feet change shape. With time, their width, length and depth change. To get a perfect fit, you need to have your feet measured whenever you buy new shoes.

Cosyfeet is an online shop that sells shoes for people with wide or swollen feet. To order a catalogue, call 01458 447 275 (Monday to Friday, 8.30am to 5.30pm or Saturday, 9am to 1pm). Cosyfeet can also give you advice about the right type of shoes for your needs.

  • Do not rely on the shoes ‘breaking in’ (getting more comfortable when you wear them for short periods).
  • The size and fit of shoes can be different depending on which brand you buy. It is important to try on the shoes before you buy them.
  • Make sure that you can get the shoes on and off yourself and that you can stand and walk in them.
  • If possible, buy shoes in the afternoon. Feet can swell during the day. Shoes that fit well in the morning might be tight by the end of the day.
  • Try on the shoes indoors on carpet before you wear them outside.
  • Check the return or refund policy in case you need to change the shoes.

Do you have any comments or concerns about your care?

Contact our Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS)

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