Looking after your feet

Looking after your feet (footcare) and treating common foot problems can help to prevent problems that make you unsteady on your feet and at risk of a fall. It can also reduce pain or discomfort, and improve your confidence, independence, and energy levels. Wearing footwear that’s comfortable, fits wells and is in good repair can also help to prevent falls.

Personal footcare is part of personal hygiene (such as shaving or bathing). It covers a set of tasks that an adult, whatever their age, would normally do for themselves if able to. Footcare includes toenail care, skin care and checking footwear.

What can I do?

Do

  • care for and check your feet regularly
  • wear appropriate footwear for the activity you’re doing

Footcare

You should try to check your feet every day so you can notice any problems quickly. You should also wash your feet every day.

Cutting and filing your toenails should only take 10 minutes, once a week.

You can look after your toenails by:

  • clipping and filing toenails safely
  • keeping them at a length which feels comfortable

You can look after the skin on your feet by:

  • smoothing dry or hard skin using a foot file or pumice stone
  • keeping feet clean, dry – especially between your toes
  • keeping feet comfortable and warm
  • checking for cracks and breaks in the skin
  • moisturising dry skin with foot balm that has urea as the main ingredient (but do not apply cream between your toes)
  • looking for signs of infection or other obvious early problems

Footcare guidance

Footcare guidance is also available in Urdu, Cantonese and Mandarin.

Should I cut or file my nails?

It is a personal preference. It may be easier to file your nails regularly and keep them in good order after they have been trimmed to a suitable length.

Should I cut my toenails straight across?

Follow the natural shape of your toe and the final length should lie just below the tip of the toe. Avoid cutting into the corners.

Can I use scissors to cut my nails?

Yes if that’s what works well for you and is what you are comfortable using. Nail clippers give you a bit more control than scissors and using the point of the nail clippers can allow you to work across the nail in small stages.

When is the best time to cut or file my toenails?

Whenever is a convenient time for you. Some people find it easier to cut their nails after bathing their feet when the nails are a bit softer. Filing is best carried out when the feet are dry so do this before bathing. You don’t need to cut or file all your nails at the same time. You can do a few one day and so on.

What if my toe bleeds when cutting my nails?

Clean the area with lukewarm water and apply light pressure with a piece of cotton wool or cloth. Cover the cut with a clean dressing and leave in place for 48 hours. Speak to your GP practice for advice if you are worried that the area is not healing properly.

Why doesn’t the podiatrist cut my nails?

Looking after your nails is something that most people can do for themselves and is part of personal care. Podiatrists have specialist skills in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of conditions that affect the feet and legs.

Where can I buy footcare equipment such as clippers and files?

Nail clippers and files can be bought from high street stores, local pharmacies, mail order or on the internet. Cardboard, polystyrene or metal files are all suitable.

Foot problems

Contact a podiatrist or your GP practice if:

You experience any problems with your feet, such as:

  • cuts or wounds that won’t heal
  • a change in colour or temperature, that’s new or not normal for you
  • sores
  • an ingrown toenail
  • fluid or blood leaking from any area
  • you’re worried about your feet

Foot screening for people with diabetes

If you have diabetes, you should have your feet screened as part of your annual diabetes review to look for, and monitor, any changes.

You can learn more about diabetes and foot care through Diabetes UK.

Footwear

As well as caring for your feet, you should check your footwear is comfortable, well fitting, and in good condition.

Shoes

A good shoe should support and protect your foot and allow natural movement during walking. Poorly fitting shoes can cause foot problems – such as corns, calluses, bunions and ingrown toenails.

When replacing your shoes, look for:

  • an upper made of leather or breathable natural or synthetic materials with seam-free linings
  • a deep and roomy toe-box at the front of the shoe to prevent pressure on the toes and joints on the side of the foot
  • a cushioned and flexible light rubber sole with good grip
  • a heel no more than 3cm (1.5 inches) high and broad enough to provide stability
  • laces, buckles or Velcro strap fastenings that hold the shoe comfortably and securely on the foot

You should avoid:

  • shoes that are too big or small, or with squashed backs
  • slip on shoes
  • smooth leather or plastic soles, and thick rubber soles that extend over the toe
  • lace up shoes that are untied or without laces
  • high heeled or backless shoes
  • wearing slippers all day as regular footwear – they should only be worn for short periods

Insoles

If you wear insoles or splints that haven’t been checked in a while, speak to the podiatrist or the hospital department where you got them from to check that they’re still right for you.

Socks and tights

Socks should contain a high proportion of natural materials – such as cotton or wool – as this allows sweat to evaporate from the skin. As a rule, wear wool in winter for warmth and cotton to keep you cool during the summer.

When dressing, make sure your socks and tights aren’t too tight, or pulled up too high that they cut into the skin or restrict the circulation. You should also avoid walking on slippery surfaces – such as polished floors or tiles – in socks or tights.

Slippers

You should replace your slippers regularly as they become worn and loose over time.

When replacing your slippers, try to avoid slippers:

  • without straps, laces or backs
  • with high or narrow heels

Slippers should only be worn for short periods, and shouldn’t be worn all day as regular footwear.

Where to start

Think about how you currently look after your feet:

  • what positive things do you already do to keep your feet healthy?
  • what changes can you make that might help?
  • how will you make these changes?
  • who do you need to talk to?

Help and support

If you’re looking for foot care advice, your local pharmacy or NHS podiatry (foot health) department can help.

If you live independently at home, but you cannot look after your own feet and need help, you may be eligible for free personal care. You can contact your local council for an assessment of your care and support needs.

Last updated:
14 March 2023