How Taking Care of Your Feet Can Improve Mental Health
Written by: Dr. Irene N. Evuleocha, DPM, FACFAS, DABPM. Dr. Evuleocha is a double board-certified foot and ankle surgeon, an educator, motivator and leader in the health care industry. She's on a mission to inspire others to be the best version of themselves and provides ways to improve foot health and alleviate foot pain and disorders. She is a wife, mother and boss, in all forms. Find Dr. Evuleocha on Instagram: @dr.evfootdoc.
We live in a society where we are always on the move, constantly under pressure to stay ahead. Stressors from work, family, and life can contribute to the growing percentage of mental health disorders that affect individuals. Studies on exercising show those who participate in daily activities, especially outdoor activities, have an exponential decrease in mental health disorders, such as depression and anxiety.
We need our feet to be healthy for them to function well and help us navigate life. Our feet allow us to move and combat the physical stressors of life. Foot health is important and a vital component of mental well-being.
Dermatological foot conditions and mental health
There can be a direct relationship between physical appearance and mental health, but some dermatological foot conditions can cause patients shame and embarrassment. Foot conditions like tinea pedis (athletes feet), hyperhidrosis (sweaty feet), onychomycosis (fungal nails), plantar warts and hyperkeratosis (thickened calluses) are extremely common. Yet, patients can start to experience feelings of being dirty or unhygienic — a stigma of these types of conditions that should be avoided.
Fungal infections, for example, are very common on feet because of the warm, dark and moist environment created by wearing enclosed footwear. Patients often fail to be evaluated by a physician in a timely manner due to embarrassment about their feet. This delay in treatment can result in a worsening severity of the infection, resulting in discomfort and further shame about appearance and an impact to mental well-being.
Diabetic foot conditions and mental health
Diabetic foot complications like ulcers (wounds) also play a significant role in mental health. When a patient has co-morbidities like diabetes or poor circulation, it is imperative that they are evaluated closely by a specialist. Diabetics and patients with poor circulation have an exponentially higher incidence of undergoing an amputation of the foot or leg due to infection. Losing an extremity can result in depression and/or poor mental health in many of these patients.
Diabetics can also suffer from a condition that causes abnormal nerve sensations in the feet. They experience sharp, radiating pain in their lower extremities, resulting in shocking nerve sensations typically described as thousands of pins and needles on the bottom of their feet. This condition, called neuropathy, can be debilitating and can lead to chronic pain and/or deterioration of mental well-being.
Any patient who has poor blood circulation, diabetes, or multiple medical co-morbidities should be evaluated by a podiatrist for a risk assessment of their feet. Many of these diabetic-related foot conditions and complications, and the related mental health implications are preventable if evaluated by a podiatrist early.
Take care of the feet that carry you, and you’ll be tending to your mental well-being at the same time.