Most of us—75% of Americans—will have foot problems at least sometime in our lives. Think about the stresses that your feet endure. They’re subjected to significant impact pressure just from walking—and a lot more from running. They’re squeezed into tight shoes and stuffed into hot socks.
But you can treat many foot problems at home—without potent drugs or high-priced medical care.
Natural remedies that work…
Arnica for Injuries
This homeopathic remedy has become the go-to treatment for athletes—including members of the US Men’s National Soccer Team—who need to reduce post-injury swelling, inflammation and bruises.
Arnica pellets (taken internally), ointments, creams and gels contain thymol derivatives, compounds that reduce inflammation. A study published in a rheumatology journal found that homeopathic arnica relieved pain as well as ibuprofen—without the side effects that often occur with traditional over-the-counter painkillers.
How to use it: Quickly apply arnica gel, ointment or cream (or put five sublingual arnica pellets under your tongue) after you’ve banged or twisted your foot or ankle. It works best when it’s applied or taken within 10 minutes after an injury. Repeat the treatment three times a day until the pain is gone.
For homeopathic products, I recommend Boiron, a leading manufacturer of these remedies. They’re available at pharmacies and supermarkets.
Castor Oil FOR Arthritic and chronic pain
Many doctors advise their patients to apply moist heat for arthritic conditions and other chronic pain. Heat dilates blood vessels, stimulates blood flow and increases the supply of oxygen and nutrients…and it accelerates the removal of fluids that cause swelling.
Castor oil is even better because it’s an anti-inflammatory and an antioxidant that is readily absorbed by the skin. It contains the unsaturated omega-3 fatty acid ricinoleic acid, which quickly reduces inflammation and pain. Buy hexane-free castor oil (it will say so on the label). Hexane is a petrochemical that may be hazardous.
How to use it: For foot or ankle pain, soak a piece of flannel (flannels are sold online for this purpose) in castor oil…wrap it around the foot…then wrap a warm towel around that …and leave it in place for about one hour. It will reduce the inflammation and swelling. (You also can use a heating pad or hot-water bottle to heat the towel.)
Caution: Castor oil stains! Take a shower after you remove the wrapping…and keep the oil away from your good towels. You can store the flannel in the refrigerator in a plastic bag or container for about one month.
Epsom Salt for Cellulitis
Cellulitis is a common skin infection that often affects the feet, particularly in patients with athlete’s foot, fluid retention in the legs (from poor circulation) and/or diabetes. You might notice redness, swelling or warmth in the early stages.
Epsom salt is an osmotic agent. It pulls material (fluids, pus and even splinters) toward the surface of the skin. When your foot is swollen, an Epsom salt soak will reduce swelling right away—it’s almost magical. I use it for many nonemergency foot conditions, including cellulitis, painful warts and infected nails.
How to use it: For a foot bath, add one-half cup of Epsom salt to a basin of warm water.
Tea Tree Oil for infections and Fungus
Tea tree oil is extracted from the leaves of an Australian tea tree. It has been used for centuries to treat skin infections. Research has shown that it is an effective treatment for athlete’s foot as well as nail fungus (onychomycosis).
How to use it: Apply the oil twice a day to new skin infections or toenail infections (don’t apply to broken skin). Fungal infections that have gone on for a month or more probably will require a medicated over-the-counter cream such as Tinactin or Lotrimin.
Coconut Oil to Moisturize
Feet don’t have oil glands. Without this natural lubrication, the skin is naturally dry. Too much dryness can cause itching, peeling or even deep cracks that can be painful and sometimes get infected.
Coconut oil is an excellent moisturizer for the feet—one that also has antibacterial and antifungal properties. It is solid at room temperature and is available in jars at supermarkets and pharmacies.
How to use it: Apply it to your feet several times a day. Because it’s readily absorbed, it won’t look (or feel) greasy.
Mustard, Pickle Juice or Vinegar for Foot Cramps
It sounds like an old wives’ tale, but each of these traditional remedies really can help when you have foot or ankle cramps. In a study published on the website of the American College of Sports Medicine, researchers used electricity to induce toe cramps in young athletes who had just completed a workout. The athletes then drank 2.5 ounces of pickle juice or water—or nothing at all. The pickle juice stopped the cramps about 37% faster than water and 45% faster than drinking nothing.
Researchers speculate that a substance in pickle juice—possibly the vinegar—somehow short-circuits muscle-cramp reflexes. Apple cider vinegar has a similar effect, as does prepared yellow mustard (which contains vinegar).
How to use them: Keep any (or all) of them on hand if your feet are prone to cramps. When you feel a cramp coming on, add pickle juice, vinegar and/or mustard to your food.
Important: For most people, dehydration is the main cause of muscle cramps. You must hydrate after exercise. In addition to the vinegar or pickle juice, drink a few glasses of water, juice or a sports beverage.