During National Foot Care Week, Siobhan Ryan looks at what steps need to be taken to give feet a clean bill of health

In an average lifetime, most people's feet carry them the equivalent of five times around the earth.

That's not bad going considering the pressure we put them under, cramming them into high-heeled shoes or wearing worn-out trainers day in and day out, which can become a breeding ground for germs.

The foot consists of 26 bones supported by a network of ligaments, muscles, blood vessels and nerves.

Along with the eyes and hands, the feet do more work than most parts of the body so it is little wonder things sometimes go wrong and that three out of four adults suffer from foot problems.

One of the most common conditions is athlete's foot, with symptoms such as red, sore cracks or dry, flaky and itchy skin.

A recent survey of chiropodists found that men are more likely to suffer from athlete's foot than women and that younger people are most susceptible to it.

Brighton chiropodist Malcolm Andrews said: "The condition can develop through wearing the wrong footwear or not drying your feet properly after swimming or a shower.

"It only takes a few moments to do but it can make all the difference.

Proper foot care is essential to healthy, painless feet, and should be as much a part of your daily routine as brushing your teeth."

Ben Atkins , from Brighton, is a long-distance runner who suffers problems with his feet.

He said:"Despite all my efforts to get the right-fitting running shoes, I still develop problems such as blisters and, occasionally, strained tendons.

"I visit a chiropodist acouple of times a month just to have my feet checked out so that any potential minor problems can be picked up early."

Former Chippendale Kirt Strasburg is now a qualified chiropodist and works at a private clinic in Worthing.

He encourages people to develop a regular regime of checking for problems, including verrucae, in-growing toenails, heel pain, chilblains and gout.

Some foot problems are inherited, some develop from illnesses and others come from the pressure of ill-fitting shoes.

Basic hygiene and nailcutting are usually sufficient to keep feet in good health but, when normal feet develop problems, it is best to look for professional help.

The feet are also mirrors of general health.

Signs of diabetes, arthritis, circulatory and neurological diseases often appear first in the feet.

Diabetes can reduce circulation and sensation in the feet.

Awareness of changes in temperature and of pain and touch may be diminished and, as a result, foot problems can occur without a person being aware of them.

People with diabetes are priorities for NHS chiropody and are urged to check their feet and shoes daily.

If there are signs of redness in any part of the foot or leg, or if the foot feels warmer than usual, this can indicate an infection or inflammation which needs prompt, professional attention.

Osteo-arthritis is one of the most common forms of arthritis, known as the "wear and tear" complaint.

It usually affects one particular joint in areas which are subject to over-use, such as the knees and hips and, in the foot, the big toe.

Bunions and other deformities of the big toe are signs of "over-use" and osteoarthritis can result.

It can also follow other injuries to the foot.

Stiffness and pain in the joint is the first sign of osteoarthritis.

Continued use of the joint makes it stiffen up further until it refuses to move at all.

Rest, ice-packs and anti-inflammatories can provide some relief.

Chiropodists advise trying to avoid putting the foot under stress in the first place by wearing footwear which helps the foot maintain its correct shape.

A free Healthy Feet leaflet is available by sending a SAE to Daktarin Gold Healthy Feet Leaflet c/o 150 Falcon Road, Battersea, London SW11 2LW.