What Your Feet Can Tell You About Your Health, According to a Podiatrist

Getty Images/Jelena Stanojkovic
There’s a lot you can learn about your overall well-being if you know what feet signs of health to look for—they can tell you about the condition of your circulatory system, for example. “A great way to test that blood flow is good is by using your feet,” says podiatrist and podiatric surgeon Dana Canuso, DPM, founder of Dr. Canuso Skincare for Feet. “Squeeze your [big] toe for a few seconds until it turns white” Once it does, release it and count how long it takes it to pink back up. Your toes regaining blood flow in about three seconds is a sign of good circulation, according to Dr. Canuso.

But blood flow is only one of the many signs of health you can tell from your feet. In order to be able to read these signs correctly, though, it’s important to first understand what healthy feet look like.

Experts In This Article
  • Dana Canuso, DPM, podiatric surgeon and founder of Dr. Canuso Skincare for Feet

What healthy feet look like

“Feet are very complex, with skin that’s different and thicker than the skin anywhere else on the body,” says Dr. Canuso. Of course, like the rest of your dermis, feet in good condition will also have a moistened, soft and smooth appearance and texture.

“Healthy feet and skin should appear well-hydrated and toenails should be pink-ish and flat,” says Dr. Canuso. Your toes should also be pain-free and without any presence of sores, as well as any other indicators of damaged skin, she adds.

Dry, cracked heels are likely a sign of foot fungus

It is not uncommon to have dry skin on the bottom of your feet, but it’s not due to dehydration like most people think. Yet, it often doesn’t get the attention dry skin on other parts of your body might elicit, says Dr. Canuso. 

“For example, if you had dry skin on your face for longer than two weeks, you would probably have some concern and may even see a doctor about the problem,” she says. “However, dry skin on your feet for longer than two weeks is often not only ignored but also even accepted.

People may think that getting routine pedicures will simply take care of the problem, says Dr. Canuso, but that’s not the case. If there is dry skin on your feet for longer than two weeks, it’s likely due to foot fungus, as opposed to just dry skin. “An antifungal foot serum can treat the dry skin and prevent future damage, so it doesn’t come back again,” says Dr. Canuso. If you’re unsure, consult a doctor who can confirm and write you a prescription for medication to address if warranted; otherwise, there are over the counter, antifungal options as well. 

Currently, I’m in the process of using Dr. Canuso’s foot fungus repair kit, which consists of a serum for treating dry, cracked heels and an oil for removing fungus that’s sitting on toenails or might be stuck beneath or around the toes. So far, so good, but it’ll be about three weeks until I may see substantial improvement and results. 

Thick, crumbly, or yellow toenails are signs of toenail fungus

“Contrary to popular belief, it rarely comes from pedicures, and it most commonly comes from years of ignoring the dry skin on your heels, which is a fungus,” Dr. Canuso says. This fungus then travels to your nails and results in toenail fungus. Toenail fungus is difficult to treat because most treatments only focus on treating the nails and not the cause of the nails too, which is the dry skin that’s on your feet. “Look for a two step antifungal treatment to take care of both the dry skin and toenails,” Dr. Canuso suggests.

Toes that tingle or are painful could be a sign of diabetes

“Tingling or pain in your toes for some people is the first indication that they may have diabetes,” says Dr. Canuso. “Swelling in the feet and ankles can also be an initial presentation of diabetes,” she adds. 

Blue toenails could be a sign of cardiovascular disease

A bluish discoloration in toes and toenails can signify peripheral vascular disease (PVD), which is a circulatory systemic condition that causes poor blood flow to limbs. “This decrease in blood flow to the small vessels in your toes can lead to pain or color changes, and may alert your doctor to more significant cardiovascular disease,” explains Dr. Canuso.

Toenails that curve inward could be a sign of lung disease

Although curved toenails may occur naturally, it worth having looked at if your nails didn’t used to look that way. “If the curving occurs later in life, especially after having had normal toenails prior, it could be an indication that there is a decrease in oxygen and its flow to the nails, which is secondary to decreased lung function,” says Dr. Canuso.

Bottom line

Healthy feet should be soft and smooth with a pinkish color indicative of good blood flow. If you notice any of the warning signs above, speak to your podiatrist about health concerns as soon as possible.

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