Feet the topic of April Healthy Woman

Wiregrass Podiatry owner Dr. Jennifer Decker spoke about foot health during the April Healthy Woman Luncheon. Cassie Gibbs Wiregrass Podiatry owner Dr. Jennifer Decker focused on feet and fungus during the Healthy Woman Luncheon on Thursday, April 4.

Decker explained how a podiatrist’s role has changed in the past 50 or more years.

“Podiatrists are slightly different than what they used to be,” she said. “Fifty or 60 years ago, podiatrists basically just cut toenails, cut corns. They were actually called chiropodists.

“Now, podiatrists are trained surgically. Their education is much more advanced. There is a lot of time that goes into it.”

She said podiatrists now treat “anything foot related,” including fractures, nail issues and surgical needs, and they can address any shoe needs, including shoe inserts, for certain patients, such as those with diabetics.

“I do it all,” she said.

As a podiatrist, Decker said she is asked questions about a variety of topics, including those about nail fungus. She said nail fungus is common and can have a hereditary component, but it is “very difficult to get rid of.” She said a common mistake made when treating nail fungus is how long the fungus is treated.

“Unfortunately, it takes six months to a year, maybe even longer, for that whole nail to grow out from the base to the end and that fungus to be gone,” she said. “If you stop treating it too early, that fungus just says, ‘I win,’ and goes back to the beginning and starts building up again.”

One place individuals have the possibility of picking up a nail fungus is at a nail salon. She said that individuals with compromised immune systems, such as diabetics or individuals being treated for cancer, have a higher risk of “potentially picking up an infection” during a pedicure.

She also said there are several parts of the pedicure process and tools used for pedicures that could be risky, including the temperature of the water.

“One of the other risk factors, especially for diabetics or people with loss of sensation… is that the water can be really hot,” she said. “It is possible for that water to be hotter than you realize. As you do get older and if you are diabetic, you may not feel temperature as well as you think you do, so that can be a risk factor.”

She also said nail polish itself can be a place where “fungus and bacteria can be transferred.”

“One common thing is actually the nail polish, itself,” she said. “A lot of times you‘ll notice that you pick your polish a lot of people have used. They use some different layers as far as coats and clear polish, and sometimes, unfortunately, these do contain fungus and bacteria.”

She said individuals can always bring their own polish and possibly even their own instruments for a pedicure if they wish to be cautious.

“Some places are better than others,” she said. “You get to know your pedicurist, so they know to watch for some of these things if you are at risk. If you find that good place to go, obviously that’s the best thing to do, somebody consistent that you know each and every time.”

Decker told event-goers that artificial toenails can also lead to fungus growth because it blocks natural light that kills bacteria.

“Whenever you stick something artificial on your toenail, you’re allowing any bacteria or fungus to have a nice happy home between that artificial nail and your own nail,” she said.

She said it was important to allow nails to be clean and absorb natural UV light from the sun, which naturally kills any bacteria that would live on the nails, especially toenails.

She recommended keeping any artificial nails on for a short period of time and taking breaks between changing nail colors.

If an individual does contract nail fungus, Decker said there are numerous treatments available. She said home treatments can include Vick’s Vapo Rub and tea tree oil, and there are several prescription treatments, which can be topical. She said she can also help treat nail fungus “mechanically” by thinning nails, which allows them to better absorb any medical treatment.

In addition to nail fungus, Decker spoke about a “common problem” of cracked heels, which can be the result of how a person walks or a fungus that dries the skin on the heels. She also briefly addressed general heel pain, which is often caused by plantar fasciitis.

Decker said simple stretching to help alleviate heel pain could be uncomfortable “at first,” but it is important to overall health and helping prevent pain associated with stiffness.

For heel pain, she also suggested wearing shoes “with a slight heel” and avoiding a flat shoe can help reduce pain.

Decker said many people may not know they qualify to go to a podiatrist for what she called “a medical pedicure.”

“Anybody who has diabetes, they should be seeing a podiatrist at least once a year anyway for an evaluation,” she said. “They also do qualify to have all this done about every two to three months if they need it.”

She said individuals who have neuropathy, or loss of sensation, from other situations are eligible to be seen by a podiatrist. Individuals on blood thinners can also visit a podiatrist to reduce risks, according to Decker.

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