Whether you're just going about your day or trying to get in 10,000 steps, your feet work hard! Taking good care of them is one way to keep the momentum going. That includes checking your feet for any skin changes, like brown or dark spots. Pay special attention if you also have pain.
Foot Pain or Discomfort
Whenever you have foot pain, start by checking your feet for any injuries, suggests board-certified dermatologist Deirdre Hooper, MD, an associate clinical professor at Louisiana State University and Tulane University in New Orleans. It could be something as simple as having a blister, which is a fluid-filled bubble that develops in an area of pressure and rubbing (friction) on your skin, explains Harvard Health Publishing. Most blisters clear up without requiring treatment, Harvard says.
"Most important is avoiding or fixing what caused friction," says Rebecca Sundling, DPM, a podiatric surgeon at Foot and Ankle Specialists in Grand Rapids, Michigan. "Blisters filled with blood should be evaluated by a podiatrist."
Splinters and stubbed toes can also leave you with a wound, notes Harvard Health Publishing. An ingrown toenail can cause redness, swelling and pain around the nail, says the American Academy of Family Physicians.
The Mayo Clinic suggests using over-the-counter ointment and changing dressings daily to treat small wounds. Remove small splinters by soaking your feet in warm, clean water or using sterilized tweezers, Dr. Hooper adds.
Minor foot injuries sometimes become infected because footwear creates the dark, damp environment where viruses, fungi and bacteria thrive, notes Penn Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. Call your doctor if the wound doesn't heal or develops signs of infection, like getting red, sore, swollen or discharging pus suggests the Mayo Clinic.
Foot Conditions That Cause Spots
It's also important to check the skin of your feet for changes in color or texture.
Some people develop rough, hard skin that's white or yellow. This thickened skin, usually called a callus or corn, results from excess pressure or repeated rubbing in one spot, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine. Treatment usually involves over-the-counter remedies, like pumice stones, notes the American Academy of Dermatology, or visiting a reliable nail salon.
The fungal infection athlete's foot is another common cause of skin changes on your foot. This fungus lives in dark, damp places, like locker rooms and even shoes, describes the U.S. National Library of Medicine. When your feet come in contact with the fungus, it can transfer to the areas of skin between and underneath toes, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
If you have athlete's foot, you may notice soft, moist, flakey spots between toes or scaly patches on your soles, reports the Cleveland Clinic. These patches may itch or burn. Over-the-counter products can be used to treat athlete's foot, the clinic advises.
"Look for creams ending in -azole," suggests Dr. Hooper. "Also, keep spaces between your toes dry. It may sound strange, but a hair dryer works best, especially if you're prone to sweating."
Round spots that are raised or grainy (and sometimes have a black dot in the center) may be warts, which are small skin growths caused by a virus, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine. Warts on the bottom of your foot (plantar warts) are usually easy to treat with over-the-counter products or home remedies, according to the Cleveland Clinic. If warts are large, painful or spreading, call your doctor.
Psoriasis and contact dermatitis are other health conditions that can affect your feet, Dr. Sundling notes. Psoriasis causes skin cells to build up, forming itchy, dry patches, explains the National Psoriasis Foundation. According to the Mayo Clinic, contact dermatitis is an allergic reaction to something that touches your skin.
Spotting Serious Spots
The most serious type of discoloration may not be painful, and that's why it's important to check the skin of your entire foot — the top, bottom, between toes, and even the skin under your toenails. According to the American Podiatric Medical Association, this can help you spot skin cancer early, which is important for successful treatment.
According to a January 2018 study in the Journal of Foot & Ankle Surgery, melanoma skin cancer ranks among the top 10 cancers for both women and men, and it may be more serious when it develops on the foot: In this study, just 50 percent of people with melanoma of the toe survived five years after diagnosis. (Earlier studies confirm higher survival rates for melanoma in other places on the leg.)
Dr. Sundling suggests using the "ABCDEs" of melanoma when checking spots on your feet, as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
- Asymmetry: Is the spot asymmetrical? (Does it have an odd, irregular shape?)
- Border: Does the spot have irregular or jagged borders?
- Color: Is the spot uneven in color?
- Diameter: Is the diameter (distance between its edges) larger than a pencil eraser?
- Evolving: Has the spot evolved (noticeably changed) over the past few weeks or months?
If you answer "yes" to any of these questions, contact a dermatologist to schedule an exam and have the spot removed for testing if necessary.
Is This an Emergency?
- Deirdre Hooper, MD, associate clinical professor, Louisiana State University and Tulane University, New Orleans
- Harvard Health Publishing: “Blisters (Overview)”
- Rebecca Sundling, DPM, podiatric surgeon, Foot and Ankle Specialists, Grand Rapids, Michigan
- Mayo Clinic: “Cuts and Scrapes: First Aid”
- Mayo Clinic: “Puncture Wounds: First Aid”
- Penn Medicine, University of Pennsylvania: “Athlete’s Foot: Not Just for Athletes”
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: “Corns and Calluses”
- American Academy of Dermatology: “How to Treat Corns and Calluses”
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: “Athlete’s Foot”
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: “Hygiene-Related Diseases: Athlete’s Foot”
- Cleveland Clinic: “Athletes Foot, Jock Itch, and Ringworm”
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: “Warts”
- Cleveland Clinic: “3 At Home Wart Remedies That Actually Work”
- National Psoriasis Foundation: “About Psoriasis”
- Mayo Clinic: “Contact Dermatitis”
- American Podiatric Medical Association. “Skin Cancers of the Feet”
- Journal of Foot & Ankle Surgery. “Melanoma of the Foot Is Associated With Advanced Disease and Poorer Survival”
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: “What Are the Symptoms of Skin Cancer?”
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Nail Trauma"
- American Academy of Family Physicians: "Ingrown Toenails"