Oregonian Interview “Don’t Be a Heel”

“Don’t Be a Heel – Listen Carefully to What Your Feet are Saying”

Printed in The Oregonian “Health Fitness and Beauty” section, April 27, 2003.

If the first word that comes to mind is “ouch” when your feet hit the floor in the morning, you may need to see a podiatrist.“Probably the most important thing to do is to listen to your feet,” said Dr. Steve Tillett. “If pain is there, there probably is a problem.”

The No. 1 problem Tillett treats is heel pain. Commonly called “heel spurs,” the condition’s medical name is plantar fasciitis.

Although it may feel like a bruise on the heel, plantar fasciitis means that the fasci band–a thick membrane–is pulling away from the bone. If allowed to continue, the band could tear, causing excruciating pain.

Improperly fitted shoes or an increase in activities–such as walking or running–may cause heel pain, Tillett said. Surgery used to be done to correct the condition but the actual problem is inflammation, he said. Resting the foot, icing it, taking anti-inflammatory drugs and splinting the foot should relieve the problem.

Some people protect their arches with orthopedic devices that can be slipped into the shoe, he said. The arch supports can last three to five years.

If the shoe doesn’t fit…

Patients often limp into Tillett’s office complaining of ingrown toenails. Ingrown toenails may be congenital, or they may be caused simply by wearing ill-fitting shoes. They may appear two or three years after the foot has suffered a trauma, such as someone stepping on the toe or dropping something on it.

Often, though, ingrown toenails are caused by improperly cutting the toenail and leaving a sharp point that breaks through the skin. If that’s the case, a podiatrist can perform a local anesthetic and shape the offending nail in a five-minute procedure. The pain usually goes away quickly, Tillett said. “By the time my patients leave the office, they feel a whole lot better than they did when they came in.”

Even if a person inherits flat feet or the tendency for bunions from his parents, the problem can be prevented from getting worse, said Dr. Wayne Vetter of the Ankle and Foot Clinic. The key is to catch problems before they become difficult to solve. Often, he said, illness that starts in one part of the body is reflected in the feet first. “People just don’t stop and examine how they feel and ask themselves ‘what is ailing me?'” Vetter said.

Instead, they try to treat the symptoms with Epsom salts and aspirin or other over-the-counter pain medications. By the time they come to see a podiatrist, Vetter said, they’ve been in pain for several weeks or months.

Even athlete’s foot may be masking other problems. Vetter said he always asks patients about their general health and immune systems, medications and their environments.

“Many years ago, we didn’t have a treatment; we used creams to treat it from the outside,” Vetter said about the fungal condition. “But now we can prescribe medication to treat it from the inside out.”

Vetter said he sees an increasing number of diabetics in his office.

“It’s important for people with diabetes to examine their feet all the time. And if they can’t do it, a family member should.”


* Dr. Steve Tillett, 6327 S.W. Capitol Highway, Suite B, Portland, Oregon 97239; 503-246-2212

copy right 2003

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