What Are Your Feet Trying to Tell You?

If your eyes are the windows to your soul, then your feet might be the window to your health. Whether they're big or small, narrow or wide, the skin, nerves, blood vessels, bones, nails, and even hair on your feet say a lot about how the rest of your body is doing. These signs can tell you what your feet say about your health:


Discolored, dark, and flaky nails. If they're yellow, gray, brown, have uneven white marks, are brittle, flaky or the skin around the nail bed is itchy, it might signal a fungal infection. Early infections can often be treated with over-the-counter anti-fungal creams. If that doesn't work, your doctor can prescribe stronger anti-fungal medications.

Thick, course, and pitted nails. If your nails have pockmarks, are discolored, or the skin or joints around them are red, dry and painful, you might have psoriasis. Some people with psoriasis and affected nail beds also have an autoimmune condition called psoriatic arthritis. Don't treat this condition with OTC meds. See your doctor for prescription medications.

Sunken nail beds. Your toenails should be slightly rounded. If they're concave or bowl-shaped, ask your doctor to test you for anemia (iron deficiency in your blood). Over-the-counter supplements that contain iron and vitamin C along with a diet that includes plenty of iron-rich foods can help replace depleted iron stores.


Painful, swollen big toe. A big toe that's red, inflamed, hot, and tender is a symptom of gout. Gout is a type of arthritis caused by uric acid buildup. It usually comes on suddenly, though it can take weeks or longer to resolve. See your doctor about diet and nutritional changes that can help prevent gout attacks and help with pain management.

Popsicle toes. Having super cold feet isn't usually confined to just the toes, but they can be a sign of poor circulation or a thyroid disorder. If you have shortness of breath, pain in your feet, difficulty keeping your body warm, fatigue, or any other symptoms, see your doctor.

Hairless toes. Nobody wants Hobbit feet, but having completely bald toes isn't great either. Poor circulation can cause the hair normally located on the top of toes to fall out. Talk to your doctor about your heart health and start exercising to get your blood pumping from head to toe.

Heels and Soles

Unhappy feet. When every step you take is tender or painful, that can indicate anything from plantar fasciitis (inflammation of a tendon in your heel) to broken bones. Our feet are made up of 26 bones and about a hundred muscles, tendons, and ligaments that take a pounding with every step. Stress fractures, ligament, and tendon damage occur more often when people are active in sports or overweight, but can happen to anyone. Walk those feet to the doctor's office if they're still painful after a few days of rest, ice, compression, and elevation, or if you experience sudden, sharp pain in a bone.

Sores that don't heal. Whenever you get a cut, hangnail, or other type of lesion on your foot (especially the bottom of your feet), clean it, treat it, and protect it. If it doesn't heal quickly, make an appointment with your doctor. Poor wound healing on the feet can be a sign of diabetes, which sometimes leads to severe infections and even amputation.

Numbness. If you can't feel your feet when you touch them or walk, this might indicate cardiac or neurological problems or even diabetes. Numbness can affect your ability to walk, and balance and is a leading cause of falls in older adults. See your doctor immediately.

Stinky and dirty. Even people with impeccable hygiene can have less-than-sweet-smelling feet from active sweat glands and bacteria, but if someone you care about has overwhelming foot odor or visible signs of dirt, this may indicate they're not able to manage basic hygiene and self-care. Pay close attention to other signs that activities of daily living are out of control and consult with a physician.

Make sure your doctor examines your feet when she performs a complete physical exam. Take good care of your feet and they'll take care of you, every step of the way.