When people talk about getting sick, most people think of a respiratory or gastrointestinal problem—the cold, the flu, the unfortunate consequences of a bad meal, etc. But your feet can get sick, too! While in many cases such illness can show up anywhere on the body—skin cancer, for example—there are a number of illnesses that only occur in the feet, tend to strike the feet before spreading elsewhere, or affect feet in ways that produce unique challenges.
Plunging Feet First into Systemic Problems
Feet are often the first place you will notice system-wide nervous or vascular conditions. Your feet are the furthest possible point from the heart, lungs, and brain, and must also contend with the pressures of holding up your entire body weight.
Peripheral neuropathy—a condition in which nerves slowly decay due to damage or lack of nutrition. Lower legs and potentially the hands are the first areas where symptoms become present, but in time the burning, tingling pain or even outright numbness can spread throughout the body without treatment.
The same goes for many vascular conditions. Peripheral arterial disease (PAD) is a slowing of circulation in the extremities and often caused by a buildup of plaque in blood vessels. In the short term, that could mean pain, cramping, swelling and ulcers that are slow to heal. Claudication is muscle pain or cramping that occurs during walking or exercising and is a significant red flag. The symptoms go away after rest but return with activity. If plaque is building up in the arteries of your legs, there’s a good chance it’s forming elsewhere, including the heart and vessels that supply blood and oxygen to the brain. Today you might have a PAD diagnosis; tomorrow it may be a heart attack or stroke.
Another condition of note is rheumatoid arthritis (RA), an inflammatory disease where your immune system attacks your own tissues. RA can involve joints that have a lot of motion (synovial joints) throughout the body, but the tiny joints of your toes and feet are often the first to be damaged. There are different forms of arthritis that may also mimic RA.