Our poor old plates of meat. Even this Cockney rhyming slang conjures up an image of red raw, leathery, hot and bothered feet. We each take three and a half million steps a year on our feet (equivalent to circumnavigating the world five times, over a lifetime); we shove them into ill-fitting shoes (I’m talking to men, too), yet we give them little thought or care.
Each foot has 28 bones, 33 joints and more than 100 muscles, tendons and ligaments. A quarter of the body’s bones are in your two feet. Surely such marvels of genetic engineering deserve consideration, but most of us only notice our feet when summer approaches and the thought of exposing them to the world forces us to take action.
A pedicurist concentrates on skin conditioning, nail care and the overall look and feel of your feet. A podiatrist (also known as a chiropodist, though this term is falling into disuse) is a specialist (and may even be a doctor) who can treat particular foot conditions such as bunions, athlete’s foot and other fungal infections, ingrown toenails, corns, blisters and cracked heels.
To keep our feet in top condition and ensure that any disease is detected before it causes harm, we should visit a podiatrist at least once a year. This is especially important once you’re over 50, when genetic diseases such as arthritis can kick in.
“I believe in supple feet,” says the aptly named Emma Supple, a podiatric surgeon. “I have a simple, three-step mantra which, if followed, keeps feet in excellent condition.
“First of all, scrub your feet daily with a bristle brush. The skin on your feet is five times thicker than the rest of your skin and you should be looking at something like a dishpan brush to give you the correct level of scrub to dislodge dirt, remove sweat and bacteria, and keep the skin smooth.
“Next, you need to moisturise your feet to prevent hard skin and cracked heels. Infection can enter through these fissures and cause serious pain. Apply a good foot cream, anything containing urea, to open up the dermis. I recommend CCS, which you can get at the chemist.
“Finally, be shoe-savvy. By that, I mean wear dancing shoes for dancing and walking shoes for walking – shoes that are appropriate for the purpose. If you notice your shoes are hurting, don’t wear them for more than half an hour after you’ve become aware of the pain.”
Emma also advises clients to know their perfect heel height. Some people are better in heels, she says: flat shoes aren’t necessarily right for everyone. It depends how the ankle is set in relation to the foot, and how it articulates. It explains why some women can walk around all day on vertiginous heels while others are more comfortable in flats.
She says: “Sitting down, extend your foot in front of you, keeping your knee straight. Now let your foot drop so it is dangling. Measure an imaginary vertical line from your toe to the ground. Now imagine a horizontal line from your heel to the vertical line. That distance is your perfect heel height.”
This rule, she says, also applies to men. “Some men do damage by wearing flats when they evidently need heels. It aggravates the arch. They could wear Oxford brogues, Cuban heels or cowboy boots, all of which would give them that little bit of heel and solve the problem.”
Many of us like to wear Birkenstock-type sandals in summer, but while these are fine for short periods, they don’t provide the support that our feet deserve.
Try, instead, Beech sandals, £29, available for both men and women in a variety of styles. These have a thong between each toe, and push the anatomy of the foot back into place by re-aligning the bones. They stop bunions, trapped nerves and take heel pain away.
In hot weather, wash your feet twice a day. They can produce up to half a pint of fluid a day in hot conditions, and sweat promotes bacteria. Take care to dry them properly, as bacteria and fungi like warm, moist conditions, especially between the toes. Use an exfoliating scrub once a week and apply moisturiser afterwards.
If you suffer from sweaty feet, underarm antiperspirant spray works well on feet. Wear shoes half a size larger than usual in summer as the foot swells in the hotter months and needs extra space.
Finally, at the end of a hot day, treat your feet to an ice bath. For quarter of an hour, at least, steep them in a bowl of cool water with plenty of ice cubes. This will cool down inflammation of the deep muscles and prevent swelling. After this, says Emma Supple, dry well, moisturise and slip into a pair of Beech sandals.
Aveda Foot Relief, 125ml, £17
This is my favourite by far. This fabulously rich yet non-greasy moisturiser softens feet within days. It is blended with active herbs and exfoliating fruit acids, as well as rosemary and lavender to deodorise, and it softens and moisturises with castor and jojoba oils. From Aveda.co.uk.
Liz Earle Foot Spritzer, 75ml, £7.15
Carry this in your bag for instant relief for feet, legs and ankles. This fast-drying spray combats odour-causing bacteria with with nine essential oils including aloe vera, peppermint and rosemary. From LizEarle.com or JohnLewis.com beauty section.
Margaret Dabbs Exfoliating Foot Mousse Scrub, 100ml, £15
With ground tea tree leaf, pumice and luxurious softening agents, this wonderfully aromatic cream removes hard skin, leaving your feet baby soft and smelling like a dream. From Margaret Dabbs.co.uk or SpaceNK.com.
CCS Foot Care Cream, 175ml, £7.14 and CCS Heel Balm, 75g, £6.44
These creams, developed in Sweden, soften hard, dry skin and help repair and relieve cracks in the skin. They’re lanolin free and dermatologically tested. From most chemists.
Kiehl’s Cross-Terrain Dry-Run Foot Cream, 100ml, £16