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  • Writer's pictureSpine, Health & Stability

What your feet can tell you about your systemic health

Your feet can tell you a lot about your general health or warn you of underlying health conditions. From minor foot pain to more serious symptoms, your feet can show symptoms of disease before any other part of your body. When you see a Podiatrist, they may pick up on signs or symptoms in the feet and legs which correlate with your general health or medical conditions and can help to educate you in ways to manage and prevent associated complications.

Here are some signs of disease your feet can reveal:

Loss of hair on your feet and lower legs – Peripheral Vascular Disease

Reduced hair on your feet and lower legs can be a sign of Peripheral Arterial Disease (PAD) in which narrowed blood vessels reduce blood flow to the lower limbs. PAD can result in a delay in healing and increased risk of infection

Cold feet – PAD or a thyroid condition

If the thyroid is underactive and doesn’t produce enough thyroid hormone, this interferes with the body’s metabolism. Since metabolism controls both heartbeat and the body’s temperature, an underactive thyroid could contribute to reduced circulation and colder feet.

An ulcer on your feet which is slow to heal – Diabetes Mellitus or PAD

Diabetes Mellitus can cause circulatory problems and related conditions such as PAD. Over time, high levels of blood glucose can damage blood vessels and cause plaque to build up resulting in a delay in healing and risk of infection. In high risk cases this can lead to complications such as gangrene and amputation.

Ulcer on your foot slow to heal could indicate Diabetes Mellitus or PAD

Thick, yellow nails – fungal infection

The presence of a fungal infection can be an indication of an underlying auto-immune disorder such as Lupus or can result from taking immunosuppressant drugs. People with a mal-functioning immune system are more likely to experience infection and infection-related complications. This is because their immune system is weakened by both the disease and the medication used to treat it.


An enlarged, swollen toe or stiff, sore foot joints with deformities – a type of arthritis

An enlarged 1st toe joint may be a sign of Gout, a type of arthritis caused by a build up of uric acid within the joint.

Rheumatoid Arthritis is a chronic inflammatory disorder where the immune system attacks its own tissues, resulting in stiff, sore joints. This over a long period of time can result in bone erosion and joint deformity

Numbness – Peripheral Neuropathy

A numb sensation or ‘pins & needles’ in your feet may indicate nerve damage called Peripheral Neuropathy. Peripheral Neuropathy can develop over time in people with Diabetes Mellitus or those who have a vitamin B12 deficiency. Numbness in the feet can be particularly dangerous in combination with poor circulation due to complications associated with risks of infection.

Pitted nails – Psoriasis

Psoriasis is a common chronic skin condition associated with the immune system. It can also affect the nails leading to thickening, pitting, ridges, lifting from the nail bed or irregular contour of the nail

Toenails with spoon-shaped indentations, ‘Koilonychia’ – iron deficiency

Koilonychia are usually thin, soft nails with a spoon shape depression capable of holding a drop of liquid. Often these spoon-shaped nails are a sign of iron deficiency Anaemia or a liver condition called Hemochromatosis

Foot drop – Neurological disorder

Foot drop is the inability to lift your front foot due to paralysis or weakness of the muscles, such as when you dorsiflex the foot to clear the ground during the gait cycle. Weakness of these muscles responsible for dorsiflexing the foot may signal a number of underlying neurological disorders such as MS, stroke, Cerebral Palsy or Polio

Foot Drop

Red, blue toes – Raynaud’s disease

Toes that turn blue when exposed to the cold can be due to Raynaud’s disease; a disorder affecting the blood vessels supplying oxygen to the skin. Fingers and toes turn blue and become numb when exposed to the cold due to the blood vessels constricting. Precautions need to be made in people with Raynaud’s to protect their hands and feet during the Winter seasons.

Cramping feet and legs – Mineral deficiency or neurological disorder

If you experience leg and foot cramps your diet may be lacking Calcium, Potassium or Magnesium. It may also be a result of exercise and dehydration. In some cases, cramps or spasms in the legs and feet may be due to a brain injury or nerve condition.

Swollen feet and ankles – Hypertension

Swelling in your feet and ankles may indicate high blood pressure (Hypertension) or a more severe condition such as congestive heart failure or kidney/liver failure. It is recommended you check with your doctor if you have significant swelling.

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