DEAR DOCTOR K: I see lots of products designed to treat foot problems — and I have lots of foot problems. Are the foot care products you can buy in the drugstore worth the money?
DEAR READER: For some body parts, the drugstore has little to offer. But you’re right: There are many foot products. To find out if they’re really helpful, I checked with my colleague, Dr. James P. Ioli, assistant professor of orthopedic surgery at Harvard Medical School. Here are our thoughts on some common foot care products.
— An arch bandage might make your arch feel better and more supported, but it won’t change the structure of your arch or fix serious problems. People with diabetes or poor circulation should avoid these because they could reduce blood flow through the foot. If you don’t have circulation problems, it might be worth a try. Some of my patients really find that arch bandages help their feet feel better.
— Callus and corn cushions are simple and effective. The doughnut shape keeps pressure off calluses and corns. Change them often; otherwise the skin underneath will start to break down.
— Stay away from callus and corn removers. The active ingredient, salicylic acid, can harm the healthy skin around the corn or callus.
— Detoxifying foot pads claim to absorb impurities from the body and aid “natural cleansing.” In a word — bunk! The best way to clean your feet is by washing them with soap and water.
— Foot files are OK, but use with care. Don’t scrape and scrape until you start to bleed. An old-fashioned pumice stone is a more gentle option for removing dead skin.
— Foot powders are better than many sprays and can help with sweaty and smelly feet. Some brands contain menthol, which creates a pleasant sensation and smell. Others have an antifungal medication.
— Moleskin products are cotton flannel with an adhesive backing, not actual moleskin. They are good for reducing friction points in shoes caused by bunions, calluses or corns. If you find yourself using a lot of moleskin, consider attacking the root problem: Switch to more flexible, better-fitting shoes.
— Nonprescription orthotics are worth a try before considering the prescription ones, which cost a lot and usually aren’t covered by insurance. The flat, foam and gel orthotics cushion the foot nicely. If you overpronate (if your foot rolls inward) or have arch problems, buy a pair with arch support.
Some doctors don’t take foot problems seriously. After all, they’re not fatal. I was probably like them until I developed some arthritis in my feet. It was then I realized how much we walk in the course of a day, and how irritating it is to experience pain whenever you walk.
So it’s good that simple over-the-counter solutions can help out with foot pain. Some are definitely worth trying; others are definitely not worth the money.
Dr. Komaroff is a physician and professor at Harvard Medical School. To send questions, go to AskDoctorK.com, or write: Ask Doctor K, 10 Shattuck St., Second Floor, Boston, MA 02115.