You may not think so – but your feet can tell you an amazing amount about your health.
From pesky heels and calluses to more serious problems, like swelling, they often show signs of disease before any other part of your body.
So what does having cold feet really mean?
And can swelling really indicate that you may have heart problems?
Emma McConachie, Falkirk-based podiatrist and spokesperson for the Royal College of Podiatrists, revealed to MailOnline what your feet really say about your health.
From pesky heels to more serious symptoms, such as swelling, your feet often show symptoms of disease before any other part of your body.
Emma McConachie, RCP spokesperson and private podiatrist, spoke to MailOnline
Retracted toes or clawed toes
It could be a sign of: ill-fitting shoes or neurological changes
Your little toes ‘can start to lift up over time as the tendons on the top of the foot get tighter,’ Ms McConachie told MailOnline.
The most common reason for this is shoes that fit poorly with the toes or slippery shoes that lead you to grip the shoes on your toes.
But dropped toes can also be a result of nerve damage from conditions such as stroke.
Strokes can cause the muscles of the feet and toes to malfunction, over-contracting the stronger muscles in the foot and causing the weaker muscles in the toe to bend abnormally.
A person who has had a stroke may be left with a different foot shape than they had before. Talk to your podiatrist to determine the cause of your toe changes and to find out what can be done to help them,” said Ms McConachie.
Studies have also shown that conditions, including poorly controlled diabetes, can also lead to damage to peripheral nerves in the foot.
Dark vertical lines on the toenails or dark spots under the nail
It could be a sign of: pigment deposits, bruising, or skin cancer
Toenail discoloration is not unusual.
Ms McConachie advised that the most common cause of dark spots on the nail is trauma.
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This can cause bruising and pooling of blood under the nail, which can range from “a few spots to the entire nail,” she said.
This often grows over several months as the nail grows from the cuticle to the end of your toe.
But if a straight, dark brown or discolored black line appears on the nail, this may indicate melanin – which can be caused by injury or disease.
The darker your skin tone, the greater the chance of dark streaks in your nails. These will usually appear on the fifth and first pins but can appear on all.
Dark lines may also be a sign of melanoma – a type of skin cancer that arises from skin cells called melanocytes – warned Ms McConachie.
She added that this is a particular concern when seen in people with fair skin.
She advised that dark marks are usually a sign of trauma. “If you have any concerns, ask her to check.”
Yellow thick nails
It could be a sign of: A fungal infection
Toenails naturally thicken over time, especially when you hit your shoes several thousand times a day.
“Those who wear steel toe caps or who are very active often have thicker toenails,” McConachie noted.
But in some cases, toenails can become very thick, yellow, orange, brown, or even crumbly, indicating signs of athlete’s foot, medically known as tinea pedis.
One of the most common foot conditions, studies show that fungal infections affect around 15 percent of people each year globally.
The fungus breeds in moist, warm, moist areas – which means that the feet provide an ideal environment, as they contain around 250,000 sweat glands, providing an ideal breeding ground.
One of the most common foot problems – for both men and women – is an overgrowth of calluses also known as hard or dead skin
A fungal infection is highly contagious and can spread anywhere on the skin, including the scalp, hands, and even the groin. This is especially likely if you use the same towel for your feet as the rest of your body.
“A podiatrist can advise you if you have a fungal nail condition and which treatment options are right for you,” said Ms McConachie.
It could be a sign of: heart problems or lymphatic drainage problems
Ms McConachie advised that while our feet naturally swell up a bit at the end of each day or on particularly warm days, any sudden changes in the size of one or both feet should be checked out by a professional.
“The swelling may be okay for your body, or it may be a sign that your lymphatic system is not working at optimal levels,” she added.
The lymphatic system – which protects against infection and disease – is a network of lymph nodes that are connected by thin tubes.
About 800 lymph nodes in the body remove abnormal substances and enlarge when fighting infection.
According to the NHS, lymphedema – a long-term condition that causes swelling of the body’s tissues – can develop when the lymphatic system is not working properly.
Ms McConachie added that swollen feet could also be a sign of a problem with your heart.
If the heart is not pumping blood as well as it should, such as in heart failure, it causes fluid to build up in the feet and ankles
“There are many different reasons why feet and ankles may swell, and many of them can be easily dealt with,” she added.
Calluses on the toes, heels, or balls of the feet
It could be a sign of: Ill-fitting shoes
One of the most common foot problems – for both men and women – is an overgrowth of calluses also known as hard or dead skin.
It often affects dry, cracked toes and heels, Ms McConachie advised, and this could be due to shoes that are too narrow or have the wrong shape of your toes.
Common infractions include mule-style shoes that slide at the heel.
A callus is completely normal on the feet. She said our bodies detect areas of high pressure and will be dead skin to protect these areas.
But Ms McConachie cautioned against trying to remove them yourself with any sharp objects.
“When it builds up in large amounts, or in certain areas, it can become painful,” she added.
“A podiatrist can remove it safely and painlessly and guide you as to why it’s happening.”
It could be a sign of: Poor circulation
While cold feet may be the body’s natural response to temperature, it can sometimes indicate an underlying problem.
“Cold feet are usually a result of poor circulation in the body, which means that warm blood may not be getting to your feet on a regular basis,” Ms McConachie advised.
As it is the farthest point of the body from the heart, poor blood flow means that blood takes longer to reach your feet.
While cold feet may be your body’s natural response to temperature, sometimes it can indicate something else. ‘Cold feet are usually the result of poor circulation in the body, which means that warm blood may not be getting to your feet on a regular basis,’ Ms McConachie advised.
She added: ‘There has been a significant rise in reports of chilblains (small, itchy bumps on the skin that occur in reaction to cold temperatures) which podiatrists have seen across the UK in recent months.’
This is linked to the reduction in home heating amid the rising cost of living.
“If you’re keeping your room temperature low, make sure your legs and feet are insulated,” Ms McConachie said.
“Multiple layers can help keep your legs warm and warm bed socks and slippers can help keep your feet warm when you’re at home.”
It could be a sign of: Hypothyroidism
Ms McConachie said hypothyroidism – when the thyroid gland doesn’t produce enough hormones – can cause the skin on the feet to become dry and cracked.
Studies have also shown that most people with this condition — known medically as hypothyroidism — report rough, rough, dry skin, especially on their feet.
This is because the gland can make the skin thick and dry.
However, Ms McConachie advised that cracked heels could be caused by dry skin in the area.
“Start by applying cracked heel cream twice a day for two weeks and you’ll notice a big difference,” she recommended.
“Avoiding backless shoes and not walking barefoot should help, too.”
Slow healing of a wound or cut in your foot
It could be a sign of: Diabetes
Feeling tired, thirsty and hungry are all common symptoms of diabetes.
Less well known are foot injuries that take a long time to get better.
This is because persistently high blood sugar can lead to problems with your circulation, nerves, and immune system — all of which can get in the way of good wound healing.
Diabetic neuropathy — a condition that causes damage to your nerves that affects about half of people with type 1 or type 2 diabetes — can affect wounds and healing.
Ms McConachie said: ‘Wounds on the feet often take longer to heal than on other parts of the body, even in the healthiest people.
However, if you notice that the wound is taking some time to heal, visit your podiatrist to get it checked out.
“Type 2 diabetes is one of the most common underlying conditions that can cause this but there are many other factors that will be considered as a cause of slow recovery.”