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Heel Pain (and Other Foot Problems) at the Beach

Aug 15, 2019

School may be almost back in session, but that doesn’t mean beach season 2019 is over just yet! Lake Michigan doesn’t really start to cool down until the end of September, and we’re sure to get at least a few more glorious weekends of warm, sunny weather.

Of course, it’ll be a lot tougher to make the most of the time you have left if your beach day is ruined by foot problems—heel pain, cuts, burns, or even fungal infections can make an unwelcome appearance if you aren’t careful.

Let’s look at some of the potential downsides:

Heel Pain At the Beach

Heel, Arch, and Ankle Pain at the Beach

It’s true that one of the most common underlying factors beneath many cases of heel and arch pain is spending all day walking on hard, flat, unforgiving surfaces. But that doesn’t mean that the complete opposite scenario is any better!

Extremely soft, uneven, and unstable terrain—like a sandy Lake Michigan beach—can also lead to excessive strain and stress on many parts of the foot and leg, including the plantar fascia (underside of the foot and heel), posterior tibial tendon (inside of foot and ankle), and Achilles tendon (back of heel), among others.

The issue may be compounded by poor quality footwear—if any footwear is even worn at all. The flimsy flip-flops and other cheap sandals that are popular at the beach usually offer little-to-no support for the arches or cushioning for the heels. They won’t help you with the pain of walking on the sand, nor will they help you when walking through the parking lot afterward.

In the worst-case scenario, the uneven surface of the sand may cause you to roll or sprain your ankle, especially if you’re going for a beach run or playing a little volleyball.

Cuts, Scrapes, and Burns at the Beach

When you’re out at the beach—especially for an extended period of time—your feet are especially vulnerable to taking damage from foreign objects, heat, and radiation.

Obviously, going barefoot in areas where your feet could encounter sharp rocks, shells, or other obstacles could cause scrapes, cuts, or – if you’re especially unlucky – a puncture wound. There’s also the potential for scalding-hot sand to contend with, at least on certain days of the year.

This danger is compounded if you have diabetes or peripheral neuropathy, as you may not even be aware you’ve suffered an injury or serious burn because you can’t feel it.

Of course, we also need to talk about sunburn. The tops of feet often get missed when applying the lotion, but the skin there is just as susceptible to sun damage as any other part of your body. Worse, because we often don’t check our feet as often as we should, more serious damage (including skin cancer) can often go undetected for longer.

Sunscreen on feet

Viral and Fungal Infections at the Beach

Going barefoot also exposes you to the risk of infection from a variety of undesirable micro-organisms. The dermatophyte fungi that cause athlete’s foot and fungal toenails, as well as the viruses that can cause plantar warts, are all more common in damp, humid environments.

The infections can spread through indirect contact with infected surfaces. Some examples might be the floor of a bathroom or shower facility, or a towel that you share with other beachgoers. Walking around in damp shoes and socks could increase your risk, too.

How to Protect Yourself

Now, we don’t mean to discourage you from going to the beach! We want you to go have fun. Just make sure you put in a little bit of effort to protect your feet, too.

  • Don’t go barefoot when standing or walking—especially in common areas. At the very least have a pair of sandals or water shoes.
  • If you’re going for a beach walk or playing sports, it’s especially important that you have either shoes or a good pair of adjustable sandals that will stick on your feet and offer good cushioning and arch support.
  • Don’t forget to apply sunscreen to all areas of exposed skin—including the feet—as directed. This usually means at least 30 minutes before you go into the sun, and at regular intervals afterward.
  • Don’t share towels with others. Use your own.
  • Don’t walk or drive home in wet shoes or socks. Dry off thoroughly and bring a fresh change of clothes as needed.
  • Make sure you have a first aid kit with you and have it accessible in case you need it.
  • Examine your feet for cuts, burns, or other problems carefully before you leave.

Some of these suggestions might seem like overpreparation—especially if you’ve been enjoying the beach without any problems your whole life. But they are all fairly simple, and trust us: when the unexpected happens, you’ll be glad you were prepared.

So go out and enjoy the rest of your summer—and of course, if anything happens to your feet or ankles in the meantime, you know who to call. You can reach our Kalamazoo office at (269) 373-1019, or our Allegan office at (269) 673-8757.

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