A staggering 60 per cent of us suffer from foot problems, ranging from athlete’s foot to bunions, according to recent figures from the Society of Chiropodists and Podiatrists.
So when things do go wrong with our feet, which over-the-counter products can help?
Caroline Jones asked experts to assess some of the latest products and we then rated them.
A staggering 60 per cent of us suffer from foot problems, ranging from athlete’s foot to bunions, according to recent figures
Massager for swollen legs and varicose veins
Fit King Leg and Foot Massager (pictured above), £129.99, amazon.co.uk
Claim: This is said to ‘safely relieve fatigue and pain and improve blood circulation’. The product comprises three air bags per leg which inflate and deflate mechanically to massage from foot to thigh.
It is aimed at anyone who stands a lot at work and for those with ‘leg and feet swelling and varicose veins’.
Expert verdict: ‘Massaging the foot and legs in an up-and-backwards motion towards the body can improve blood flow, reducing fluid accumulated in the lymphatic (fluid drainage) system, so relieving swelling and aching,’ says Ivan Bristow, a podiatrist from The Chiropody Surgery in Lymington, Hampshire.
‘A massage device could help reduce pain caused by varicose veins or oedema (swelling caused by fluid build-up).
‘Mechanical massages are not as effective as a personal massage but can be used daily at home, making this cheaper in the long term.’
Caps to ease pressure on ingrown toenails
Silipos Full Gel Toe Caps, pack of two, £4.99, shoeinsoles.co.uk
Claim: These washable, latex-free, gel toe caps promise to ‘ease pressure and friction caused by corns, blisters and ingrown nails’. Wear under your socks and shoes.
Expert verdict: ‘Gel caps are cheap and are useful for reducing pressure around the toes and preventing constant rubbing of the thickened area of skin,’ says Ivan Bristow.
‘Podiatrists recommend them for patients with corns (small lumps of hard skin on toes) and calluses (larger patches of hard skin), often caused by friction from badly fitting shoes.’
Silipos Full Gel Toe Caps
Socks that battle athlete’s foot
Toe Separator Socks, £12.95 per pair, toesocks.co.uk
Claim: The maker says ‘conventional socks cause the toes to act as one unit’, and that this ‘negatively affects balance and posture’.
These glove-like socks, however, allow free toe movement, ‘preventing foot pain by exercising all muscles and ligaments’. Plus, because there’s no friction between the toes, they claim to ‘reduce odour and athlete’s foot’. Made from cotton and elastane.
Expert verdict: ‘The idea behind these seems flawed to me,’ says Ivan Bristow.
‘Although the big toe can move independently, the other four work as a unit, as they have common tendons. So the idea of having individual toes in a sock probably makes little difference to balance.
‘Close-fitting socks can aggravate athlete’s foot and worsen odour by increasing sweating.’
Toe Separator Socks
Tea tree foot bath to soften hard skin
Courtin Tea Tree Oil Foot Bath, 500ml, £21.35, beautyfor.co.uk
Courtin Tea Tree Oil Foot Bath
Claim: This foot bath, with tea tree oil, promises to ‘soften excessive callus formation’, treat ‘fungal foot problems’ and cleanse feet. Add one tablespoon to four litres of warm water and soak for five minutes.
Expert verdict: ‘Research demonstrates that tea tree oil can kill certain bacteria and the fungi causing athlete’s foot, but its effectiveness depends on the concentration,’ says Ivan Bristow.
‘The exact concentration in this product isn’t clear but it’s probably lower than a treatment oil, so may only have a mild effect.
‘Higher concentrations can lead to skin irritation, however, so I wouldn’t recommend it for fungal nail and skin infections. Over-the-counter remedies containing the proven antifungal terbafine will be far more effective.
‘When it comes to softening calluses, creams containing urea (which retains moisture) are more effective than any footbath — try Flexitol Heel Balm (£5.09, most pharmacies).’
Cushion pads for foot pain relief
Metatarsal Pads, pack of two, £19.99, londoncomfy.com
Claim: Worn under your foot arch, these are said to encourage your foot into its ‘rightful position’, spreading pressure to ‘effectively relieve foot pain’. They are aimed at all types of pain affecting the balls of the foot, including metatarsalgia, where the ball of the foot becomes inflamed and painful.
Expert verdict: ‘Metatarsalgia is often caused by ill-fitting shoes,’ explains Bharti Rajput, a podiatrist at Sole Body Soul, Dundee. When the head of one metatarsal bone presses against another, small nerves can get trapped in between, causing inflammation. Putting weight on the foot can worsen symptoms.
‘These gel pads provide cushioning, but I’m concerned they won’t sufficiently reduce pressure on the ball of the foot because the gel compresses. Orthotics (shoe inserts), from a podiatrist, are the best option.’
Shockwaves to ease inflammation
Heelease Shockwave, £32.45, heelease.co.uk
Claim: This battery-operated vibrating gadget emits low-energy shockwave therapy), which the maker says works to ‘block foot pain’ by sending high-frequency pulses through the skin into the connective tissues in the sole. These become inflamed in conditions such as ‘plantar fasciitis and tendonitis’.
It reduces pain in 98 per cent of users, according to the manufacturer’s own trials. Use daily for ten minutes.
Expert verdict: ‘Plantar fasciitis (inflammation of the fascia tissue connecting the heel bone and the toes) is the most common cause of pain in the sole,’ says Bharti Rajput.
‘It commonly affects people who spend a lot of time on their feet, causing pain in the centre of the foot and inner side of the heel.
‘This shockwave therapy involves sending painless pulses into the injured tissue. It’s recommended by NICE and there is good evidence it helps ease pain by increasing blood flow.
‘The depth of shockwave penetration into foot tissue is key — podiatrists’ machines penetrate 3cm to 12cm deep but the depth for this smaller device is unclear.
‘Reasonably priced, this can be used daily.’
Grape lotion for healing dry skin
Footmender Lotion, 100ml, £28.99, feetlife.co.uk
Claim: Promising to ‘treat and heal dry skin, calluses, corns and cracked heels,’ this contains natural acids including tartaric acid (found in grapes) which help remove dead skin cells, and is rich in moisturisers, ‘stimulating the healing of cracked skin’. Apply two pumps once a day for a week, then once a week.
Expert verdict: ‘The biggest benefit of this is that, unlike most foot creams which require daily application, you drop down to weekly maintenance therapy after the first week,’ says Bharti Rajput.
‘Many of my patients forget to apply foot cream daily — when cracked heels are neglected, they can become painful to walk on.
‘There’s a good combination of ingredients in this, with lactic and glycolic acid — both well-researched exfoliators. Tartaric acid is great for keeping skin acidity levels balanced — acidic sweat can be a breeding ground for bacteria. Plus, there’s moisturising jojoba oil and urea. It costs £28.99 but the quality of the ingredients makes it good value.’
UV bulbs to sterilise shoes
UV shoe lamps, £49.99, amazon.co.uk
Claim: It’s claimed that inserting these bulbs into shoes overnight provides a ‘double sterilisation’ effect, as UV radiation from the lamp and the ozone gas created as a by-product of the UV light can destroy ‘99 per cent of bacteria and fungi in 15 minutes’.
Expert verdict: ‘UV light and ozone gas destroy micro-organisms such as bacteria or fungi by producing electromagnetic energy that causes cell death,’ says Bharti Rajput.
‘A UV shoe steriliser can help keep shoes bacteria-free, but feet also need regular washing and/or an antifungal treatment.’
UV Shoe Lamps
Herbal cream to calm chilblains
Akilene Winter Cream, 75ml, £12.25, amazon.co.uk
Claim: This contains gingko biloba which, it’s claimed, boosts blood circulation, ‘calming inflammation and itching in existing chilblains and preventing new ones.’
Expert verdict: ‘Chilblains are itchy areas of skin that become inflamed after being warmed up too rapidly when cold,’ explains Andrew Gladstone, a podiatrist at City Chiropody in London.
‘When it’s cold, the body preserves the supply of warm blood to essential organs by closing off small blood vessels in the skin of extremities. Warming these too quickly before blood supply is restored causes the skin to produce chemical by-products that cause a burn-like injury: chilblains. The herb gingko biloba is used to boost circulation but there’s limited evidence it actively treats chilblains.
‘I’d suggest a simple antiseptic cream such as Savlon.’
Akilene Winter Cream