As you walk through your livestock out grazing, you watch them carefully, looking out for signs of lameness. But do you ever stop to think about your own feet? How are they feeling in their ninth hour of welly wearing today?
Ann Bermingham Chiropody is based in Tullamore, Co Offaly. With over 25 years of experience and a lifetime in the countryside, Ann knows too well the neglect and hardship bestowed upon farmers’ feet.
“Skin problems are one of the most common issues we deal with. Farmers often come into us with hard skin, fissures and cracked heels, which is mainly because they are outside in all types of weather; or because they have stayed in wet boots or socks all day,” she says.
Calluses and corns (hardened layers of skin that develop over bony areas) mainly arise from the friction of ill-fitting foot wear Ann explains.
“It is important to keep these skin issues under control, because farmers’ boots are prone to bacteria build up. Leaving these issues untreated means you are going from a mild skin irritation to an infection or skin breakage,” she says.
Although very common, fungal infections are most often neglected, because they do not present as pain, Ann explains. While a fungal nail usually appears discoloured and begins to crumble; they can also thicken and will eventually becoming painful, as they rub off the shoe or boot.
“A lot of the time a fungal nail will come about because of an injury to the nail. There was a breech to the nail bed and once that happens, it is open to infection. Fungal nails can be treated easily, as long as they are caught early.”
Regularly dealing with problematic toe nails, Ann advises that if you think you have an ingrown toe nail, you should go to a podiatrist as untreated ingrown toenails can easily become infected.
It may come as a surprise to some, but wellies are not the ideal day-long footwear. A message Ann is keen to get across to farmers is to invest in two pairs of supportive laced boots for working.
“Farmers are in wellington boots all day. There is very little support in them. They are designed far better than they used to be, but wellies are not for all day wear, no matter what.”
Ann also urges farmers to rotate their footwear. Particularly, if you are out in wet conditions, you need to give your boots a chance to dry out for a day.
“You need to get into the mindset of having appropriate footwear for whatever the task is. If you are outside in the morning bringing the cows in, it’s fine to wear wellingtons, but you shouldn’t still be in them by tea time.
“And I do not recommend slip on boots – if they slip on, they will slip off.”
Diabetics should have their feet checked every year.
“Consistently high sugar levels will interfere with the sensations in your feet. Pain is the thing that tells us something is wrong. If you can’t feel pain, you have no indicator that there is something wrong.”
Another harsh reality for Irish farmers’ feet is the cold. Harsh weather conditions contribute to all types of foot problems, she explains.
“Many farmers we see come into us with chilblains; where the skin has been burnt from the cold. It’s like a very mild form of frostbite. It can get itchy, inflamed and sore. Chilblains can split open and are very irritating.”
“The thing with farmers is that they tend to go out with the same type of clothing on them all year-round. If you are wearing a pair of jeans now, in April – you need to layer up in December. If your legs get cold, your feet will get cold too.”
“Chiropody” is the older term for “podiatry” (podiatric medicine). It is the study, diagnosis and treatment of disorders of the foot, ankle and lower extremity.
Visit Ann Bermingham Chiropodist on Facebook, or call 086-739 0730 for more information.