‘I’m so glad I did’: Foot care for a pain-free spring

SPONSORED: Alaska winters can wreak havoc on our feet, but with a little love we can be comfortable in our own skin. It may be easier than you think.

Presented by Anchorage Foot & Ankle Clinic

As the sun returns, Alaskans are taking off their winter boots — and may find their feet in less-than-great shape for spring.

Alaska’s long winters are notoriously challenging, and this year, Anchorage residents tromped through more than 120 inches of snow during one of the snowiest seasons on record.

“It’s hard. Our feet are just wrapped up these big boots and heavy socks, and I think we forget about them,” said Dr. Heather Kaufman, podiatrist and owner of Anchorage Foot & Ankle Clinic.

Dr. Kaufman has some simple fixes to ease common foot issues in Alaska and advice on when it’s time to see a specialist.

Choosing the right boot

Spring is a great time to perform “a really good foot and shoe gear inspection,” said Dr. Kaufman. Are your feet feeling compressed in your footwear? Are last year’s running shoes worn out? Is it time to treat your feet to new shoes or orthotics?

Rhonda Buchanan worked as a bakery manager for 35 years. Eventually she developed sharp pains in both of her feet. Dr. Kaufman’s office was conveniently located in the same Dimond Boulevard business center as Buchanan’s other medical providers, so one day, she stopped in to schedule a visit.

“I’m so glad I did,” Buchanan said.

Buchanan’s right foot was a simple fix — she needed to swap out her shoes, which were causing pressure on her pinkie toe.

Boots and shoes that fit incorrectly can put pressure on the feet, especially the toes. Combine thick socks with a tight fit and people can end up with painful ingrown toenails, symptomatic hammer toes, or areas of excess rubbing or pressure points, said Dr. Kaufman.

The solution is to “buy shoes that are wide enough in the toe box and long enough from heel to toe,” said Dr. Kaufman.

When purchasing shoes, buy them the end of the day, or after a lot of physical activity. That’s when feet are at their widest, most swollen and longest. Everyone has a foot that is slightly larger than the other, so make sure both feet are comfortable. If you plan to wear thick socks, bring them along.

This will help avoid developing or aggravating hammer toes, a condition where toes are bent at the middle joint. Runners are notorious for having hammer toes, she said, and correct shoes can help. This advice will also help people with high arches from experiencing pain on the top of their feet.

People who wear rainboots for day-to-day use may also develop issues, said Dr. Kaufman. All-weather boots like Xtratufs are great for keeping water out — but its waterproof materials are equally good at holding heat and moisture in. This creates an ideal environment for fungal skin infections and fungal toenails, which the clinic sees often.

“If your feet sweat a lot, wear breathable shoes,” said Dr. Kaufman.

At Anchorage Foot & Ankle Clinic patients are given an assessment including x-rays when needed and biomechanical evaluation. Dr. Kaufman may examine the patients’ shoes as well to provide a proper treatment plan and recommendations .

Also, have you been wearing the same winter boots for a decade? If so, it’s probably time to invest in a new pair, she advises. Your feet will thank you.

Bunions: Stop the pain

Patients with bunions — a bony protrusion at the base of the big toe — need to take particular care to have appropriately wide footwear, said Dr. Kaufman. When bunions are developing, they may not hurt, but pressure against shoes can become excruciating over time.

Left untreated, bunions may worsen to the point of needing surgery.

Dr. Kaufman approaches surgery conservatively, ensuring all other options are weighed first. “There are things that we can do to try and keep them from getting significantly worse, mostly through orthotics and proper shoe gear,” she said.

Combat chilly weather

The clinic doesn’t treat frostbite often. Alaskans know how to keep their feet warm, said Dr. Kaufman. But some conditions worsen in cold weather.

Raynaud’s syndrome occurs when smaller arteries carrying blood to the tips of the fingers and toes constrict excessively in the cold. The result is skin color changes, numbness and even severe pain in cold weather. Women are affected more often than men, said Dr. Kaufman.

To ward off numb feet, keep them warm and dry, changing socks during the day to ensure they are sweat-free. Shoes that are too tight can hinder blood flow and make your feet colder, so make sure your feet are comfortable and that you have enough room to wiggle your toes.

People with arthritis also experience more pain in the cold, which is “brutal” on arthritic joints, she said. Those patients are advised to stay warm and move as much as possible to keep from getting stiff. Anti-inflammatory gels and some over-the-counter pills can help, too.

Her clinic also treats chilblains and a new condition called COVID toe. Both present in similar ways, as small blisters or rash like lesions that develop on the toes. Chilblains are a side effect of past frostbite, whereas COVID toe is a symptom of the COVID-19 virus, said Dr. Kaufman.

When is it time to see a specialist?

It may be time to see a specialist “when the issue is causing pain every day and preventing you from engaging in the activities you want to,” said Dr. Kaufman.

Treat issues before they get out of hand. For instance, if you have an ingrown toenail, seek medical care before it gets infected.

Dr. Kaufman’s tightknit team works out of its southside Anchorage office. Satellite clinics in Kodiak, Valdez and Cordova allow Dr. Kaufman to treat patients in small communities off the road system.

She loves podiatry in part because “a patient can come into your office with their feet killing them and leave with their feet not hurting and happy,” Dr. Kaufman said.

“It’s like a miracle,” said Nadia Mendez, receptionist at the clinic. “Sometimes, they walk in nervous. They’ve never seen a podiatrist. But Dr. Kaufman, she’s amazing.”

Anchorage Foot & Ankle Clinic has a small medical supply store called Sole Soothers where it sells diabetic shoes, inserts and offers a variety of products geared toward making feet and toes more comfortable in shoes. “It’s a really cute little store and it’s got a lot of great products,” Dr. Kaufman said.

She can also be found at monthly local races in Anchorage, hosted by shoe store Skinny Raven Sports. Stop by her booth to chat with her and her team.

“We are down-to-earth people; we want people to come in and feel comfortable,” said Dr. Kaufman.

For Buchanan, Anchorage Foot & Ankle Clinic ended years of worsening pain and improved her overall quality of life.

“My feet don’t bother me at all now,” said Buchanan.

Anchorage Foot & Ankle Clinic has been voted Alaska’s best for the previous four years. The practice is built around education, expertise, and an empathetic approach for its patients.

This article was produced by the sponsored content department of Anchorage Daily News in collaboration with Anchorage Foot & Ankle Clinic. The ADN newsroom was not involved in its production.