What feet can tell you about health: 8 things spa therapists can watch for

What feet can tell you about health

Spa employees, including massage therapists, nail technicians and reflexologists come into regular contact with customers’ feet. It’s helpful to know what feet can tell you about health.

Know the signs of underlying conditions

Do the therapists at your spa know how to spot signs of underlying illness on someone’s feet, and when to refer that person to a medical professional? We asked Jane Andersen, a North Carolina-based podiatrist and Chair of the American Podiatric Medical Association (APMA) Communications Committee, to share with us some of the indicators in a person’s feet that a guest should seek medical attention.

What feet can tell you about health

Andersen told Spa Executive that some of the signs a spa customer might need to see a doctor include “Any significant pain, a mass that is not normal anatomy, redness, swelling and/or warmth, or open sores.” She also said that she has seen patients referred by spa therapists.

“We periodically do have patients referred from massage therapists, especially for painful conditions such as plantar fasciitis. Massage therapy can be a very helpful tool for these patients, but they often need to be seen by their podiatrist.”

Here is a list of 8 signs that a guest might have an existing health condition and should be referred to a medical professional, such as a podiatrist or MD, if they haven’t already seen one.

Numbness, tingling and open sores that don’t heal

Numbness, tingling and open sores can be indicators of diabetes, a disease in which the body does not properly process food and blood glucose is too high.

Cold feet and lack of hair on the feet and toes

Cold feet and toe baldness can be signs of peripheral arterial disease, a common circulatory issue in which narrowing of the arteries restricts blood flow to the limbs.

Red, hot, swollen big toe joint

Heat, swelling and pain the in big toe joint may be a sign of gout. Gout is a form of arthritis caused by a buildup of uric acid in the blood that then crystallizes in joints, most often in the toe.

Deformity and pain with the toes drifting outward

Outward drifting of the toes with pain and deformity is indicative of rheumatoid arthritis. This painful condition is the most common type of autoimmune arthritis. It occurs when the immune system is not working properly.

Moles that are large, asymmetrical, have irregular borders and/or are irregular in color

Large, asymmetrical, and irregular moles can all be indicators of skin cancer. So can a black or brown line under the toenail. Also watch for bleeding.

Xanthoma (nodule often found on achilles tendon)

Xanthoma are fatty deposits under the skin caused by hyperlipidemia. “Hyperlipidemia” is the medical term for high cholesterol, which can lead to arterial blockage and heart disease.

Red, white or blue toes

Red, white or blue toes are a sign of Raynaud’s disease or phenomenon, a condition in which changes in temperature trigger an abnormal spasm of the blood vessels, causing a diminished blood supply to the tissues.

White pitted toenails

Pitting in the toenails (holes in the nail that can be shallow or deep) can be an indicator of psoriasis, as can nails pulling away from the nail beds. Pitting can also be a sign of other conditions.

What to do now?

Some of these are indicators of more serious illnesses, but it’s important not to terrify the guest. As we’ve discussed before, we should always leave the diagnosing to medical professionals.

The therapists should suggest to the guest that they see a podiatrist or their family doctor, stressing that what they are seeing is out of the ordinary but they are not  qualified to make a diagnosis.

Do speak up if you see something, and encourage your colleagues to do the same. You can make a big difference in someone’s life, and maybe even save it.


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