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With foot problems having the potential to be unsightly and uncomfortable, people will often call on pharmacy for advice and recommendations

Most people take their feet for granted and don’t include them in their daily health and beauty regimen. Yet foot problems, such as ingrown toenails, athlete’s foot and hard skin, affect 90 per cent of adults from time to time. Issues with feet often start in childhood and can get worse with age. The College of Podiatry’s “Feet for Life” month in June highlighted the importance of caring for our feet at all life stages.

Foot and leg problems occur all year round and can often be treated with over-the-counter (OTC) products. But many only become more noticeable once the weather warms up and sandals emerge from the wardrobe. So which foot and leg care items can pharmacies stock to cater for customers’ needs, and what advice should you provide?

Odour control

Foot odour is often caused by wearing the same shoes every day. Washing the feet daily with an antibacterial soap may help to reduce odour, followed by a deodorant or antiperspirant spray – any brand will do, although specific foot odour products are available. Wearing socks helps to absorb sweat, but customers can also buy absorbent foot powders and medicated insoles. 

Verrucas 

Verrucas usually get better on their own, but customers can treat them with OTC products, as long as they follow the instructions carefully. The most effective products contain salicylic acid, which needs to be applied daily to destroy the top layer of skin. Verrucas should be soaked in water first, then petroleum jelly applied around the site to protect the surrounding skin. They can be filed down once a week with an emery board. Cold sprays are also available which freeze the verruca. 

It can take two to three months of treatment for a verruca to disappear completely. Pharmacies can stock special verruca socks for swimming to avoid passing on the virus. If a verruca is unusually painful or inflamed, refer the customer to the pharmacist. 

Hard skin, corns and calluses

Hard skin can be prevented by applying a rich moisturiser –containing ingredients such as urea or lactic acid – over the whole foot, avoiding the area between the toes. Any hard skin can be removed with a pumice stone, foot file or an electric alternative.

Corns and calluses are areas of thickened skin, often caused by wearing tight shoes or high heels. Customers may be able to soften them with a gentle abrasive and a foot file or pumice stone. Wearing a foam wedge or a foam dressing between the toes can relieve pressure and ease pain. 

Specialist corn plasters contain acids to burn off the hard skin, but they can also burn the healthy skin around the corn if they’re not used correctly. Customers should speak to a podiatrist before they use them and should avoid use if they have diabetes. 

Blisters

Blisters are caused by friction and pressure, and are especially common on the heel and side of the little toe. As soon as shoes show signs of rubbing, customers should use an anti-blister stick or an adhesive plaster to protect the area. 

Blisters should be left to heal naturally. Hydrocolloid blister plasters will cushion the area, encourage healing and prevent further damage. An open blister should be covered with antiseptic ointment and a dry sterile dressing to prevent infection.

Athlete’s foot and fungal nail infections

Athlete’s foot can usually be treated with OTC antifungal creams, sprays or gels. These should be applied not just to the affected skin, but also to the surrounding area. This common fungal infection is rarely serious, but it can spread to the toes or develop into a secondary bacterial infection. It’s essential that customers use most athlete’s foot products for several weeks, even after the symptoms clear up, although single dose treatments are also available. Antifungal powders are useful for dusting inside shoes and trainers but shouldn’t be used between the toes as they can irritate the skin. 

Fungal nail infections affect around one in four of the population. Customers should use an antifungal nail paint or lacquer to treat and camouflage the nail. However, if the infection is extensive, with more than three nails affected, customers should visit a podiatrist.

Ingrown toenail

Nails should be cut straight across to prevent ingrown toenails. The College of Podiatry recommends nail nippers for cutting toenails rather than nail cutters or scissors, as they have a smaller cutting blade but a longer handle, giving people more control.

If a customer has an ingrown toenail, they should dab antiseptic in the corner of the nail and cover it with a sterile dressing. Customers can buy an OTC kit to relieve pain and help the nail grow properly, but it is important that they know how to use it correctly so as to prevent further damage. Surgery may
be recommended by a GP if it doesn’t improve.

Heel pain

Heel pain can be triggered by walking, running or standing for long periods of time. Treatment for heel pain usually involves using a combination of techniques, such as stretches, painkillers and wearing supportive and comfortable shoes to relieve pain and speed up recovery. The problem can also be prevented and treated with shock-absorbing orthotic inserts and arch supports. 

Aching legs and feet

It’s normal to have slightly swollen or aching feet and legs at the end of the day, particularly in hot weather or after sitting or standing for long periods of time. But ongoing symptoms can be a sign of an underlying medical condition, so should be checked out by a GP. 

Varicose veins

Varicose veins are swollen and enlarged veins that usually occur on the legs and feet. They affect 30 per cent of the population and can cause pain, aching and discomfort.

To minimise symptoms, customers can wear compression hosiery (stockings or tights) to improve the flow of blood, but they should check these are suitable first by speaking to their GP. Made-to-measure products can be arranged if standard sizes are unsuitable. Insole arch supports that fit in shoes may provide extra support for the ankles, which can limit any swelling. Cooling gels and sprays may also soothe the area. 

Sprains and strains

Most sprains and strains can be treated at home. Customers need to follow PRICE – protection, rest, ice, compression and elevation. Cold sprays and cold packs provide immediate relief and are useful when ‘on-the-go’ as an alternative to an ice pack. Customers shouldn’t use heat products for the first 72 hours after an injury. Elastic compression bandages can be worn during the day to limit swelling. Oral paracetamol will help with pain and ibuprofen can help with pain and swelling. It takes most sprains and strains six to eight weeks to heal completely.

Specific needs

Customers with diabetes shouldn’t treat most foot problems themselves without medical advice, although diabetes-friendly foot products are available over the counter. Instead, they should be referred to the pharmacist, their GP, diabetes nurse or a podiatrist.

Foot problems affect 90 per cent of adults from time to time




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