With each foot containing 33 joints, 100 tendons, muscles, and ligaments; and countless nerves and blood vessels that link all the way to the heart, spine, and brain, they’re equipped to handle plenty of pressure and can actually tell us a lot about our overall health.
If you know what signs to look for, your feet may be able to unlock a few mysteries.
1. Foot cramping and spasms
Muscle spasms can be caused by dehydration. Insufficient hydration can mean that the muscles are not getting enough oxygen and that there is a lack or imbalance of electrolytes or nutrients, especially sodium, calcium, potassium, or magnesium. Spasms can also result from overexertion, or not stretching enough when exercising. Finally, the type of shoes might contribute, for example, changing from flat shoes to high heels.
2. An enlarged big toe
Gout can cause the toe to be red, hot, swollen and extremely painful. Gout is the most common type of inflammatory arthritis among men. Gout also increases the risk of kidney stones.
3. Cold feet
Cold feet can indicate a range of problems, including poor circulation, diabetes, hypothyroidism, and anemia.
Feet that change colour, from red to white to blue, may be a sign of Raynaud’s disease, in which blood vessels narrow when the nerves overreact to the cold.
4. Swollen feet
Swollen feet can indicate a wide range of problems, from poor circulation and related heart failure, kidney or liver failure, to deep vein thrombosis (DVT) or a blood clot, lymphatic buildup and cellulitis, among others.
Redness, warmth, and inflammation, suggests an infection and bruising and swelling suggests a sprain or fracture.
5. Spoon-shaped toenails
Concave toenails, or koilonychia, is mainly associated with nutritional deficiencies, and especially iron-deficiency anemia. Anemia is linked to malnutrition, internal bleeding, malignancy, and celiac disease.
If you have discoloured toenails and wounds that do not heal, this suggests a systemic disorder that needs medical attention. Spoon-shaped toenails can also be a sign of a genetic disorder, circulatory problems, autoimmune diseases, and musculoskeletal conditions.
6. Coloured toenails
If you always wear nail polish, yellow toenails are common but they can be a sign of tuberculosis (TB), jaundice due to liver problems, inflammation of the thyroid gland, and even sinusitis.
They can also indicate bronchoiectasis, a lung condition that can lead to breathing problems. If there is discolouration or deformity of the nails not linked to the use of cosmetics, check with your doctor.
7. ‘Pins and needles’
Are you experiencing numbness or tingling in the feet? That can be a sign of circulatory problems or damage to the peripheral nervous system, possibly a trapped nerve or one of a range of diseases.
Tingling in the feet is also a sign of nerve damage in diabetes patients and According to the National MS Society, numbness or “pins and needles” in the extremities is often one of the first signs of multiple sclerosis (MS).
8. Aching toe joints
In rheumatoid arthritis, the lining of the joints, or synovium, becomes swollen and inflamed. The joint and supporting ligaments and tissues are damaged, leading to decreased mobility.
There may be a deformity, such as claw toe or hammer toe. As the bones soften, stress fractures and bone collapse may result.
Rest, ice, and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, can help to relieve symptoms and reduce pain and inflammation, reports Medical News Today.
9. Foot drop
If a person has foot drop, or drop foot, they cannot lift the front part of the foot it may be a sign of an underlying muscular, neurological, or anatomical problem which can result from a nerve injury in the leg, or damage during a hip operation.
There may be nerve or muscle damage as far up as the neck or shoulder. It may cause the foot to drag when walking, or the individual may develop an unusual gait, lifting their thigh to enable the foot to clear the floor. Sometimes it is related to a neurological disease such as polio, or a brain or spinal cord disorder. A person with multiple sclerosis or stroke may have foot drop.
This article originally appeared on Better Homes and Gardens