Issues with feet often start from a young age and can be exacerbated over time, yet foot health is often ignored

Next month, June 2017, is Feet for Life Month, the time when the College of Podiatry urges people to give their feet some attention. The theme is ‘From Birth to Beyond’ concentrating on foot care for different age groups. This is an ideal time for pharmacies to promote foot health products and advice to customers.

People with chronic conditions, such as arthritis, diabetes and circulatory problems, are most at risk of long-term foot- and legcare issues. “Foot care is seasonally driven,” says Mike O’Neill, consultant podiatrist at the College of Podiatry. “Pharmacists can stock products that make the feet look better, such as heel balms and exfoliates, especially if people are going away on holiday. Then to encourage customers to discuss foot care regimes, pharmacists can hand out leaflets and recommend the College of Podiatry’s website. Pharmacists can also promote Feet for Life Month on a noticeboard or with posters in their pharmacy.”

Childhood issues
The College of Podiatry estimates that around four million children wear ill-fitting footwear, which can lead to foot health issues at a young age. “Always have a child’s feet measured for length and width before purchasing new footwear, and check sock sizes regularly to make sure they are not too tight on the feet,” says Emma Supple, consultant podiatrist and member of the College of Podiatry.

“It is a good idea to check a child’s feet on a regular basis to keep an eye on any symptoms such as inflamed tissue around the nails, red pressure marks on the top of toe joints, below the ankle and at the back of the heel as these could be attributed to ill-fitting shoes.”

Teenagers, in particular, can be secretive about foot problems, which means that trivial issues, such as an ingrown toenail, can become more serious when neglected. Children, and especially teenage boys, have naturally sweaty feet, but smelly feet may be an indication of poor hygiene. For particularly sweaty feet, pharmacists can recommend spraying feet with some antiperspirant spray.

Verrucas are another common problem in this age group. “The jury is out on whether to treat verrucas or not to treat them,” says O’Neill. “But pharmacists need to know how to recognise verrucas and give the right advice to customers on available treatments and reducing the spread of infection.”

Adulthood issues
From around the age of 55, feet can naturally develop problems due to daily wear and tear and because skin loses its elasticity and starts to thin. Pharmacy customers should aim to have a good foot care routine. It is important to note that foot pain is never ‘normal’. It can lead to problems with walking and exercise, so customers with foot pain should be referred to their GP for advice.

While pharmacists can stock heel pads and products for corns and calluses and arch pain, foot strain and plantar fasciitis, staff need to be vigilant when selling them. “It’s important to check the customer doesn’t have diabetes and isn’t taking any other medication,” urges O’Neill. “If an adult has a verruca for example, pharmacists need to check which OTC products can or can’t be used if the customer has any underlying health issues.

“If the customer is healthy, they can usually use OTC products, but they do need professional advice if the problem is recurrent. Pharmacists should look out for customers buying similar products for the same problem, as they may need to see a podiatrist for professional guidance.”

Athlete’s foot is the most common foot problem seen in pharmacies. “Pharmacists need to know how to recognise it, give the right advice and recommend appropriate medicines for the feet and inside shoes,” says O’Neill. “Athlete’s foot can spread to the toe nails if it’s not treated. OTC treatments are available for toenail fungal infections, but they don’t often work that well.”

As people get older, their risk of type 2 diabetes increases. Diabetes can lead to a risk of foot infections, increased numbness and decreased circulation, so regular foot checks are essential. The College of Podiatry, in collaboration with their special advisory group ‘Foot in Diabetes UK’ and the British Association of Prosthetists and Orthotists, recently created two apps to increase knowledge of problems that can occur in the diabetic foot.

One is for healthcare professionals who conduct diabetic foot screenings; the other is for people with diabetes to ensure they are empowered to prevent problems with their feet. Both apps follow National Institute for Health and Care Excellence and Scottish Intercollegiate Guidelines Network guidelines.

According to Arnicare brand manager, George Lellis, it’s important that pharmacy staff are well educated on common conditions that can cause aching legs and feet. “There should also be a clear and prominent category in store for aches and pains,” he says. “If there are relevant leaflets on aching legs and feet that customers might find useful, make sure these are easily visible. Staff should also know where the relevant products are in store to ensure a smooth customer purchasing experience.”

Falls prevention is a government priority, especially for the older age groups. With around 50,000 sprained ankles occurring in the UK every day, it’s also important that people watch where they tread to avoid coming away with bruised ankles or feet, maintains Lellis. “Pharmacies should have a clear bruise cream category containing products such as arnica cream, so that customers know exactly where to go to buy items that can help.”

Beauty route
According to Mintel’s report on Deodorants and Bodycare last year, new launches in the foot care sector focused on more indulgent and pampering products, such as the Scholl Velvet Smooth Express range, suggesting an attempt in the category to shift away from a medicinal positioning.

During the winter months, feet are hidden away inside furry boots and thick socks and tend to be neglected so it’s no surprise that customers may wish to pamper their feet when they put them out on display in the spring and summer months.

Interestingly, research from the College of Podiatry shows that 90% of women report foot problems. While some problems are inherited and some develop from illnesses in middle age, many are caused from the pressure of ill-fitting shoes.

A spokesperson for O’Keeffe’s Healthy Feet, which can benefit customers with eczema and diabetes, recommends dual-siting foot care products to deliver significant sales uplifts, focusing on both the footcare and skincare fixtures. “Independent pharmacies can really benefit from the sales spikes seen during the summer months, as consumers look to get their feet flip-flop ready,” says a spokesperson. “It is also worth capitalising upon the seasonal discounts that several pharmacy wholesalers offer to independent pharmacists.”

Originally Published by Independent Pharmacist

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