Summer vacation is a great time for branching out, seeing new things and enjoying a break from our normal routine. While a change of pace can have a positive, refreshing impact on the psyche, sometimes these new activities increase stress and strain on the physical body causing pain and discomfort.
The condition of our feet is quite possibly the most important aspect of a successful vacation, as they can be at particular risk when we take part in activities which we are not accustomed to doing. Sore feet, blisters, sprains/strains, swelling, sunburn and infections are just a few things that occur more frequently in the summer months. What’s worse is that once one of these conditions occur, we are reminded with every – step – we – take. The good news is that with a few simple preventative steps, you can stave off many of these nagging issues.
#1 – Wear activity appropriate shoes that fit properly.
Footwear is important for travelers in a variety of situations, and fit is key. For example, when flying, flight and terminal changes could require you to walk great distances in a hurry. Sprinting through the airport to make a connection is not the time to be in flip flops or worrying about losing a shoe. Sneakers are the most versatile footwear you can wear and it’s always a good idea to pack an extra pair, just in case.
Some of your vacation activities may require special footwear. If you are participating in a water sport, visiting a water park or hiking near a body of water, consider protective water shoes. They are designed to protect your feet without holding water. Shoes that are not designed for water use become like weights you have to carry on your feet. Plus, wearing wet shoes can lead to blisters and bacteria and/or fungus growth.
Do not wear brand new shoes. New shoes tend to be stiff. To “break them in”, wear them for shorter periods of time before relying on them for a long hike, a day of sightseeing or hours of dancing; otherwise, you may be on your way to painful blisters.
Whatever shoes you wear, pay attention to how well they move with, and support, your foot. In some cases, an insole or insert can make a world of difference in how a shoe fits and supports your foot. Orthotics can be custom made to provide your foot with just the right amount of support, exactly where you need it. Talk to your local chiropractor about what to look for in a shoe that would be best for you. Many chiropractors can provide custom orthotic services.
#2 – Fend off Fungus and Bacteria
Your feet are exposed to many germs in the course of a day. Philip Tierno, PhD, director of clinical microbiology and immunology at New York University’s Langone Medical Center, and author of “The Secret Life of Germs,” describes exposure to “vomitus, human waste, dog feces, sputum expectorated by people—some of whom may have microbacteria—and a wide variety of other things like food or liquids that have been brewing in the hot sun.”
These germs can include norovirus, Staphylococcus aureus, E. coli, and various drug-resistant bugs like MRSA, and hot weather acts as an incubator. Furthermore, exposed cuts or blisters on your feet can increase your chances of exposure to these.
If you choose to wear sandals, wash your feet well when you get back home or to your hotel. The go-to of soap and water will do the trick, but Jeannette Graf, MD, assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai Medical Center in Manhattan, says that antibacterial hand sanitizer can be used in a pinch.
Wearing socks adds a layer of protection to your feet and provides a cushion to help prevent blisters and calluses. Additionally, if you need to remove your shoes for any reason (i.e. airport security), they serve as a barrier to germs and fungus that may be on the floor.
Loose shoes such as flip-flops or sandals are not all bad. There are sandals designed to provide support to the foot. Plus, they are a great alternative to walking barefoot in locker rooms, around pools and other locations that are breeding grounds for athlete’s foot and other fungus and infections. You may even want to utilize them in your hotel room, especially the bathroom, for the same reason.
Additionally, the American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons suggests using saline solution (like is used to rinse contact lenses) to clean a blister or small scrape, such as you may get from stepping on something at the beach.
#3 – Wash your shoes.
Clean your shoes periodically. Flip flops, some sandals, and even some sneakers can be tossed in the washing machine on the delicate setting and cool or warm water with detergent. Then set them in the sun or by a fan to dry out. Always wash your hands after handling shoes. Dr. Tierno reports that 80% of all infectious diseases are transmitted by direct or indirect touching, such as kissing, holding hands or picking up a dirty shoe, and then touching eyes, nose or mouth.
#4 – Keep the swelling down.
Increased activity along with heat and humidity can lead to swelling in the feet. Drinking plenty of water, avoiding salty foods and focusing on exercise that increases blood flow can all help reduce foot swelling. A cold foot soak at the end of a long hot day can be very refreshing and also help swelling subside.
#5 – Prevent DVT (Deep Vein Thrombosis)
Help prevent DVT (deep vein thrombosis) with breaks and stretches. If you are on a plane or driving more than 2 hours, you will need to take a break. Stand up and stretch if you can. It is good for your back, as well! If you can’t, there are still stretches you can do while seated: Flex the ankles, wiggle your toes, pump your feet, stretch your calf muscles. You may also consider wearing compression socks. These fit tightly and help push the blood back to the lungs and heart, thereby preventing the development of dangerous blood clots in the legs.
#6 – Beware of the sun!
If you are wearing open shoes, or going barefoot, don’t forget your feet when you apply sunblock. The top and front of the ankles can be especially prone to sunburn. If you are going to be swimming or laying facedown, remember the bottom of your feet as well.
#7 – Be Prepared for Murphy’s Law
Somehow, it seems that little things happen when we least expect, or desire, for them to occur. Tiny bandages are great for hangnails and minor cuts, but won’t help much for a blister on your ankle. Check your vacation first aid kit to ensure you are prepared with the appropriate item and size, to tend to your feet. The American Podiatric Medical Association (APMA) offers this list of items to pack to ensure you are able to handle what Murphy throws at you:
- Flip flops for the pool, spa, hotel room
- Socks for airport security check points
- Sterile bandages—for covering minor cuts and scrapes
- Antibiotic cream—to treat any skin injury
- Emollient-enriched cream—to hydrate feet
- Blister pads or moleskin—to protect against blisters
- Motrin or Advil (anti-inflammatory)—to ease tired, swollen feet
- Toenail clippers—to keep toenails trimmed
- Emery board—to smooth rough edges or broken nails
- Pumice stone—to soften callused skin
- Sunscreen—to protect against the scorching sun
- Aloe Vera or Silvadene cream—to relieve sunburns
Make your vacation complete with these easy tips for healthy, happy feet! By taking some preventative steps you can help keep your tootsies ready for your next adventure.
American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons “Summer Vacation Tips for Healthy Feet” https://www.foothealthfacts.org/article/summer-vacation-tips-for-healthy-feet
American Podiatric Medical Association (APMA) “All Toes on Deck: Tips for Protecting Feet from the Heat” https://www.apma.org/Patients/HealthyFeetTips.cfm?ItemNumber=9860
Myers, Wyatt, Medically Reviewed by Lindsey Marcellin, MD, MPH “8 Summertime Foot Hazards” https://www.everydayhealth.com/foot-health-pictures/8-summertime-foot-hazards.aspx
youbeauty.com staff “Dirty Flip-Flop Feet: Defeat Foot Cooties!” Aug 2, 2011 https://www.youbeauty.com/fitness/dirty-flip-flops/