LUKE AIR FORCE BASE, AZ — The human foot contains 26 bones, 33 joints and more than 100 muscles, tendons and ligaments that make up the load-bearing structure at the base of a human leg.
At one time, humans walked with their bare feet across the terrain, toughening the soles of their feet to become like hides of leather, able to withstand almost anything stepped on. Roughly 40,000 years ago during the Middle Paleolithic period, someone decided to use a protective covering on the feet.
Since archaic times, sandals have donned the human foot, eventually transforming many times over into the footwear we have today. Since the early days of humankind, we developed a need to protect our feet and that challenge continues today.
As Airmen, Marines, Soldiers and Sailors put on their camouflage uniforms, their combat boots complete the ensemble and prepares them for any environment their job takes them into.
Many of us forget that our feet are one of the most important assets we have. We walk, stand, run and swim with our feet. We are propelled forward by our feet, yet they are so often neglected.
Fungal and bacterial infections, including athlete’s foot, corns and calluses, and ingrown toenails are some of the more common problems among military members. Most of these problems can be avoided if proper foot care is used.
“It is your body, you know your body, so from the moment you notice something or start having pain, try to do as much home care as you can,” said Senior Airman Yadria Wood, 56th Medical Operations Squadron aerospace medical technician. “Do not neglect your feet. Perform proper hygiene and make sure your nails are cut straight. The moment you notice an infection, see a doctor as soon as you can.”
Athlete’s foot occurs when feet spend too much time in warm, dark and moist combat boots, which is a welcoming invitation for fungal growth.
“The number one thing we see is athlete’s foot,” said Maj. Robert Davis, 56th MDOS family practice physician assistant. “It comes down to proper foot care when you are in a hot environment here or deployed. A person should have several pairs of socks and change the socks a couple times a day. Keep your feet dry and clean and expose them to air once in a while.”
Corns and calluses occur when the bony parts of the feet rub against the front, sides and backs of the boot which is usually caused by wearing the wrong size shoe.
Lastly, there are ways to prevent ingrown toenails. More common in the large toes, these can be very painful and are completely avoidable when proper nail care is performed and the appropriate shoe size is worn. When a toenail is cut at an angle, a piece of the nail can sprout off and breaks into the nail bed causing swelling, redness, pain and possibly infection.
“One of the biggest things people can do is just good nail hygiene,” Davis said. “That means trimming them appropriately. Most people trim the nail rounded and it needs to be squared. If you do start to get an ingrown toe nail, do some warm soaks, maybe even using Epson salt a couple times a day, if possible, and manipulation of the skin where the nail seems to catch on something.
“The number one thing we see is people who get a tear in the nail and then try to clip it back. It gets hung up, and they end up with an ingrown toenail. Sometimes warm soaks alone and manipulation will fix it, but other times the patient will have to come in and have a wedge resection done.”
When an ingrown toenail occurs and has reached the point of infection, a surgical procedure called a wedge resection is performed where part or entire nail is removed. The procedure can last about 45 minutes and may take months for the nail to regrow.
If left untreated, an infection can occur. The infection can spread into the joint causing sepsis, and in extreme cases, possible amputation of the digit.
“If you do not take care of your feet, it can lead to an infection,” Davis said. “This will require a higher level of treatment, and it can take you out. If your feet are splitting open and cracked and you are in pain, you could be in serious trouble. Anything that takes out your feet, obviously takes you out of the fight.”
Feet get us from point A to point B and everywhere in between. Feet aid us in physical fitness tests and in performing daily tasks. Some feet love being buried in the sand and others enjoy the feel of grass between the toes. Love your feet and take care of them. Remember, without feet, humans would be fish … or snakes.