When was the last time you thought about your feet? Well, that’s too long. One of the most complicated of all the skeletal structures in your body, each foot has 26 bones, 33 joints, and more than 100 muscles, tendons, and ligaments. These elements will carry you through life from the time you learn to walk upright until the day you take your last step, and if you abuse or neglect them — and they fail — they are not replaceable. Your body carries no spares or retreads.

Sherman podiatrist Dr. Steve W. Hayes has some tips for taking care of your once-in-a-lifetime foundations. Podiatrists are foot specialists who treat everything from toenail disease to bone deformities such as bunions or hammer toes. They are often critical in diabetic care where they treat foot ulcers, foot wounds, and diabetic foot care from the ankle to the toes.

“We get up in the morning — often it’s dark — we put our shoes and socks on, and go about our business,” Hayes said. “We don’t think about our feet until they start to bother us, start to hurt, and by then it may be too late.”

The key is comfortable shoes.

“As we get older, our feet get wider and longer, and shoes that fit a few years ago might not fit properly now,” Hayes said. “It’s common to asked patients what size shoes they wear, and when we actually measure the feet, to find that the size they think they wear is a size or so too small. It’s also common for one foot to be a different size than the other.”

Another problem is the effect footwear style has on the foot. The newest, stylish models are often designed to appeal to looks and vanity and not to provide foot comfort or support. Form over function is often the starting point for ill-fitting shoes that lead to foot problems that are increasingly difficult to resolve.

“It’s also important to look at your feet — inspect them regularly,” Hayes said. “Look at your toes and toenails; look between your toes; inspect the skin on your foot and heels. Is it dry or cracked, is it red, are you feet cold or overly warm, are they sensitive to the touch? This is often difficult to do as we grow older, but you can put a mirror on the floor and hold your foot over that to have a good look.”

Hayes said when people have foot problems, there is a tendency to dismiss them and assume time will solve the problems. This can be a dangerous approach.

The second stage of the self-treatment cycle is to look for over-the-counter creams and fixes and try those for a while. All the time the unresolved problem grows not better or worse. Only as a last resort is professional help sought.

“Ingrown toenails are something that we generally think of as not too serious, but I’ve had patients who let it go, get an infection and end up losing the toe,” Hayes said. “There are also a lot of non-medical approaches to foot discomfort that only mask the symptoms but do not address the underlying problem. There are dozens of devices offering solutions for bunions, corns, and hammer toes, but few if any of them will really solve the problem, and the thing will just get worse.”

Off the rack insoles, arch supports, and generalized shoe inserts fall into the same category.

“If a podiatrist decides you need arch supports or inserts, he will send you to a specialist who will craft a device specifically for your foot and your problem and then build it to order,” Hayes said.

Corns involving the toes and calluses on other parts of the foot are another cause of foot discomfort. These usually are pressure problems caused by poorly fitting shoes or deformed toes. Removing the corn or callus will not solve the problem and if other steps are not taken, the discomfort will return.

Hayes warned that once popular corn and callus removal liquids are a weak solution of acid and can be dangerous.

“The acid doesn’t know the good skin from the bad and can damage the healthy, uncallused skin,” he said.

In discussing logistics, there is truth to the adage that an army travels on its stomach, but the US Army knows the infantryman travels on his feet as well. And the military takes a very serious approach to foot care. Officers and non-combat service men and women are instruction to make sure the soldiers under their command take care of their feet daily, and address any problems immediately before they grow.

Podiatrists suggest that we should all be as cognizant of our feet as our soldiers so we can march through life from first step to last in good health and on a solid foundation.

Edward Southerland is a feature writer for Best of Texoma. For more information, visit BestofTexoma.com or www.facebook.com/BestOfTexoma