Your feet mirror your general health

Roughly one-quarter of all the bones in the human body are in the feet.

When these bones are out of alignment, so is the rest of the body. While 75 percent of the population may experience serious foot problems, it’s usually not a genetic matter. Most foot problems are brought on by neglect and a lack of awareness of proper care — including ill-fitting shoes.

Your feet mirror your general health.

Conditions such as arthritis, diabetes, nerve and circulatory disorders can show their initial symptoms in the feet — so foot ailments can be the first sign of more serious medical problems.

The best exercise for your feet?

Walking. It also contributes to your general health by improving circulation, contributing to weight control and promoting all-around well-being.

A number of general foot problems can be caused by strenuous physical activity, including:

• Arch strain/pain — Frequently the result of a common condition called plantar fasciitis. The plantar fascia is a broad band of fibrous tissue located along the bottom surface of the foot that runs from the heel to the forefoot. Excessive stretching of the plantar fascia away from the heel — usually the result of flat feet — can lead to pain in the heel and arch areas.

Recommended treatments include shock-absorbing soles in your workout shoes and removable foot insoles.

• Athlete’s foot — A fungal infection that causes red, dry, flaking skin, sometimes accompanied by pain or itching.

Athlete’s foot often is contracted in showers, gyms, dressing rooms, swimming pool locker rooms or other warm, damp areas where fungus can thrive. Preventive measures include daily washing of the feet followed by thorough drying and wearing dry, airy shoes and socks. Treatments include prescription medications, either topical or oral.

• Toenail fungus — Known as onychomycosis, it can be picked up in damp areas such as public gyms, shower stalls or swimming pools. Athletes and people who wear tight-fitting shoes or hosiery that cause trauma to the toes or keep the feet from drying out are at higher risk.

It is difficult to treat, so the best course is to prevent it by wearing protective shoes or sandals in public showers or pool areas, and by not borrowing other people’s shoes, socks or towels.

When it comes to painful feet, what ap-pears to be minor may grow into a serious issue if left untreated. Seek out a podiatrist if you notice:

• Blisters, calluses or thickening skin on the foot.

• Bumps on the toes.

• Peeling skin on heels, sides of feet or between the toes.

• Any wound or sore that resists healing.

• Thick, brittle, discolored or flaking toenails.

• Warts.