Put your best foot forward

by Karen Bowen

Safety at work is a priority and well-fitting work boots are necessary components of your personal safety equipment. CSA-certified boots offer many features, including a protective toe cap and the following protections: sole puncture, electric-shock, static-dissipation, metatarsal (top of the foot between the toes and ankle) protection, and/or chainsaw protection. These all guard you from external hazards at your job site.

However, quality work boots could also injure your feet, when not fitted properly. Ill-fitting boots that cause friction, pressure or irritation increase your risk of developing calluses or corns – skin that thickens to protect underlying tissues from injury, pressure, or rubbing. Tight boots compress areas of your foot; loose boots (or ones without socks) allow your foot to repeatedly slide and rub against the inside of the boot (or a seam or stitch). In addition, bunions, hammertoes, bone spurs, and other existing foot alignment conditions can increase your risk of calluses or corns.

Foot calluses, although unattractive, are rarely painful or harmful except if they become ulcerated or infected. Calluses vary in size and shape and can appear as a thick, rough area; a dry, flaky, or waxy area; or a hardened, raised bump. They usually develop on the soles of the foot, especially under the heels or balls and are often larger than corns.

In contrast, corns can be painful when pressed, but are typically smaller than calluses. Corns appear as a hard center surrounded by inflamed skin and tend to develop on foot areas that don’t bear weight, such as the tops and sides of your toes, or even between your toes. However, corns occasionally develop in the same weight-bearing areas as calluses.

Calluses and corns are easier to prevent than to treat, so avoid them by wearing properly fitted boots and well-cushioned socks. When buying new boots, ensure accurate sizing by wearing your regular work socks and shopping after lunch when your feet have completed their usual daily swelling. Be sure that the boot fits snuggly around your heel and ankle when they are laced up and that you have enough toe room. Safety boots won’t stretch over time – your toes should be at least 12.5 mm from the end. As well, take a few minutes to walk around the store to ensure the boots remain comfortable without any pinching.

In general, practice self-care. If a corn or callus begins to form, protect the area by applying over-the-counter protective pads, rings, or skin dressings. Be careful with non-prescription liquid corn removers and medicated corn pads as they contain salicylic acid, which can irritate healthy skin and lead to infection.

Regularly soak your feet in warm, soapy water to soften calluses and corns to make the thickened skin easier to remove. After soaking, rub with a nail file, emery board, pumice stone, or washcloth to remove the outer skin layer. Repeated over time this may completely eliminate the excess skin. However, do not use sharp objects to trim the skin, especially if you have diabetes or reduced circulation. Keep your skin soft by applying moisturizer daily.

If a corn or callus persists or becomes painful, even with these self-care activities, consider the following medical treatments. In the office, your doctor or a podiatrist might use a scalpel to pare down thickened callus skin or trim a large corn. Remember – doing this yourself could lead to a serious infection, so leave it to the doctor. Your doctor might also apply a patch containing 40% salicylic acid (MediPlast, Clear Away, and others) and schedule replacement patches until the callus or corn is resolved. For larger affected areas, salicylic acid in gel form may also be prescribed.

If underlying foot structure issues are causing corns or calluses, your doctor may prescribe custom-made boot inserts (orthotics) to protect the affected area and very rarely, a doctor may recommend surgery to correct the bone alignment.

You can put your best foot forward by giving corns and calluses the boot.

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