Fascinating Feet

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People are rarely ambivalent about feet.  They either love them or hate them.  As a podiatrist, we are often greeted with the words “how can you deal with smelly feet all day?’ or “urgh, I couldn’t be touching feet all day”.  I have to say, very few of the feet passing through our practice are smelly.

We thought for October, as Halloween approaches, we’d have a look at some weird and wonderful feet and foot facts.  

  • There are 26 bones in the foot which make up a quarter of all bones in the body
  • The feet are one of the most ticklish parts of the body because there are 8,000 nerves in our feet
  • There are 250,000 sweat glands in the foot (no wonder they are sometimes smelly!)
  • The average person walks about 10,000 miles in a lifetime

Our oft-neglected feet have to put up with a lot from us.  We expect them to carry us, day in day out, 10,000 steps a day, often squeezed into unsuitable footwear.  As people get bigger and heavier, foot size correspondingly increases.  Over the past 40 years, they have increased an average of two shoe sizes.  We find that a large proportion of foot problems are directly attributable to shoes that are the wrong shape or size. 

World Record Feet

Largest feet – The record for the largest feet ever belongs to Robert Wadlow whose feet measured 18.5 inches; a UK size 36!

Longest toenails – The longest toenails belong to Louise Hollis.  The combined length of all 10 of her toenails is 220.98 cm!

Most toes – Akshat Saxena has polydactyly and has 10 toes on each foot

Small is Beautiful, or is it?

Historically small feet have been considered a sign of beauty.  Consider the story of Cinderella.  And don’t we all love babies’ feet, even if we can’t bear to look at adult ones?  However, this has been taken to extremes, particularly when we think about the tradition of foot binding in China.  Foot binding, to create Lotus feet, was the Chinese custom of applying tight wrappings to the feet of young girls to modify their shape and size. This became a sign of status and class, indicating that the bound foot belonged to a lady not needing to work. Thankfully this painful and deforming practice is now illegal.

Cheesy Feet

Why do some people’s feet smell a bit cheesy? Those 250,000 sweat glands we mentioned earlier can produce around half a pint of perspiration a day.   If it can’t evaporate, it creates a lovely warm moist environment in the shoes for bacteria to grow and metabolise producing that odious odour.

Yes, it smells cheesy, but in 2013 this was taken to the next level when a scientist and a scent expert combined forces to make cheese made from human bacteria, including from the feet and exhibited their creations in Dublin. 

Why do Witches have Warts?

In Medieval times, it was thought that the wart was the sign of the devil and the mark conferred onto a witch to seal her pact with Satan.  

Of course, warts are no such thing.  They are caused by the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) which can enter the skin through a break or abrasion and grow within the skin.  Verrucae are warts on the feet.  

Like many viruses, verrucae and warts are infectious.  I know of someone who had verrucae on his feet and a wart just inside his nostril, where he had been picking his verrucae and then picking his nose.  Maybe that’s how witches get warts on their face, too!!  So wash your hands regularly, particularly if you have been treating your verruca.  And by way, picking a verruca won’t make it go away.  If you are worried about it, speak to your podiatrist.

There just isn’t the space to tell all the weird and wonderful foot stories I could – like the upholstery tack I found wedged in a patient’s toe joint.  I never found out how that got there.

Most things that people come to see us with, however horrifying they think they are, are nothing new to us and we will almost be able to guarantee we’ve seen worse.  Don’t be shy about your feet or let a problem get worse because of your embarrassment.  We are here to help.

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Royal College of Podiatry HCPC registered Podiatrist