Why feet wrinkle and blister and pop.
I went for a walk on the weekend and quickly realised that I’d made a mistake. It was somewhere around the 10km mark (out of a 50Km endurance event made more treacherous by the persistence of the precipitation and the undulation of the terrain) that my feet started to talk to me and what they were saying wasn’t pleasant.
When it came to this event I’d done everything wrong in terms of foot prep and so I was mentally prepared to pay the price and had readied myself for the ‘grin and bare it’ consequences of my carelessness but sadly for me, none of that made the situation any less painful.
Feet are amazing things and can cope with a lot of pounding, rubbing and dampness but like every other part of our body they have their limit! The epidermal layers on our feet (and hands) are much thicker than elsewhere on our bodies and it is that which gives them their mechanical strength and robustness. The outer layers of epidermis are made up of dead cells (keratinocytes), cells that have the capacity to take on board a heap of moisture – they naturally hold around 70% moisture and can possibly swell to more than twice that. This extra moisture softens the skin which is not a bad thing until you bring friction into the equation. Soft skin plus rubbing equals blisters.
So, on the weekend my feet didn’t just have to cope with my 65kg ish frame pounding down on them step after step, they also had to carry my backpack and water-logged clothing making the total ‘me’ load an estimated 73kg, OUCH. In addition to that because of my poorly thought out footwear my feet were bound in socks that were a little too tight and shoes that were probably a good 1/2 size too small – I had forgotten that feet swell in these situations and the extra room is needed to accommodate that! I had created the perfect storm for foot rot.
Oh and did I mention the rain? AND the fact that we had to cross three swollen creeks 20-30cm deep? Yes, we did.
All up including our lunch break my feet were stuck in those boots for over 14 hours and by the end of it looked like I’d just stole them from the morg. What wasn’t wrinkled was blistered and what wasn’t blistered or wrinkled was numb. I didn’t like my chances of being able to walk in the morning.
Aside from the choice of foot wear (better fitting socks and shoes) I could have done a few other things to keep my feet intact. I nearly joined the army before becoming a cosmetic chemist and one thing you learn fast in that environment is that you are a fool to neglect your feet, in fact I’m pretty sure it was an offence that would lead to you getting a good beasting (form of controlled abuse to toughen you up). A soldier who can’t walk is a liability not just to themselves but to the whole squad.
Good foot care starts with good feet and when it comes to keeping your feet in top condition these things can really help!
- Keep nails trimmed properly so that they don’t dig in, catch or bash onto boots.
- Use talc or other moisture-absorbing products to keep the feet dry – dry feet are happy feet.
- Consider anti-bacterial/ anti-fungal products if you are prone to infection or are working/ living in a hot and humid environment.
- Moisturise to keep the skin supple and responsive to environmental changes. Dry skin can crack and leave space for bacterial infections. Urea based creams can be helpful for those who are prone to dry-skin build up but otherwise just a non-slip moisturiser is good enough.
- Let your feet breathe – time out of boots is key so wear sandals or go bare foot when possible.
Of course, I’m no podiatrist but as a cosmetic chemist I do have to consider and work with feet every now and then and of course as I own my own pair I’m keen to keep them healthy and functioning (and not let this happen again). While researching this I came across some useful information about hard skin build-up that I wanted to share. Hard skin on the feet can also be quite telling, the skin hardens up because of pressure and an un-even gait can lead to hard skin building up on your pressure points so before treating it as a purely cosmetic issue do consider that maybe your feet are telling you something about your general posture.
Today, some 40 hours after the event my feet are actually feeling quite good. I’m wearing sandals (even though it’s cold and wet out), have avoided walking too much and am doing everything I can to prevent those blisters from popping. I may have been a grade A foot fool but hopefully now you don’t have to be.
Look after your feet and your feet will take you as far as you want to go.