The summer heat has come back to North Carolina, and you know what that means—most of us are itching to spend some time relaxing on the beach!

Whether you’re making the 4-hour trek to a long weekend on the coast, or just taking a quick spin up to Lake Norman for a few hours, there’s nothing quite like a little sand, a lot of sun, and cool water to leave you feeling relaxed and refreshed.

But hold up a minute.

Before you rush out to your car and head out to fun and sun, make sure you spare a few moments to think about your feet, and prepare yourself accordingly.

Feet are particularly vulnerable at the beach—and the fact that most people completely forget to think about caring for them at all is a big part of the reason why. And we probably don’t have to tell you that a painful foot injury will pretty much ruin any attempt to have a relaxing, enjoyable day.

Fortunately, protecting your feet properly doesn’t have to be difficult. Read on to find out how you can care for yours.

Keeping your feet healthy

Protect Your Soles from Physical Damage and Infection

Even the cleanest, sandiest beaches can put your feet at risk. The most common threats include:

  • Scratches, cuts, and puncture wounds. Sharp shells, jagged rocks, even sticks or broken glass may be hiding where you least expect them.
  • Scalding sand. In direct sunlight on a 90+ degree day, the temperature of the sand may reach or even exceed 120 degrees! That’s more than hot enough to cause blisters and even second-degree burns.
  • Germs and infections. Beaches and associated facilities (bathrooms, locker rooms, etc.) may sometimes harbor fungi, bacteria, and even parasites. Although serious complications are extremely rare at North Carolina beaches, minor-but-still-irritating infections such as athlete’s foot or fungal toenails are much more common.

The simplest way to protect your feet against these threats is simply by wearing something on your feet and watching where you step. Water shoes and more closed sandals (Crocs, for example) are generally best, but even open sandals and flip flops will help as long as you wear them responsibly.

Speaking of:

Always Wear Activity-Appropriate Footwear

If you’re just making a short trek from the car to the beach—or from the towel to the cooler and back—a cheap pair of flip flops is probably fine.

But if you’re planning to do something a little more physically ambitious—stroll the boardwalk, walk a few miles down the beach, head into town for some shopping, etc.—make sure you switch to a good pair of shoes or sandals with good cushioning and arch support.

In other words: don’t walk long distances in shoes or sandals that aren’t meant for walking!

Flimsy flip-flops and similar low-quality sandals not only fail to offer this support, but they also put your feet and body at risk in other ways. They can actually shift the way you walk, forcing you to shorten your steps and dig in with your toes. This adds extra stress on muscles and joints throughout the skeletal system and can quickly lead to pain and fatigue.

And if you’re planning to play a little volleyball or go on a jog or more ambitious hike, you really ought to choose a pair of athletic shoes that can offer you not only more cushioning, but also lateral stability and support for the ankles. The last thing you need is a sprain!

Don’t Forget the Sunscreen

We hope we don’t have to tell you how important it is to protect your skin from UV rays when you’re outside for extended periods of time. In addition to painful sunburns, unprotected skin exposure can drastically increase your risk for skin cancer.

Well, when slathering on the sunscreen, please don’t forget the tops of your feet, too. They’re just as likely to burn as your ears or your cheeks, and trust us—that sunburn is going to hurt.

More than that, though, sun exposure is especially dangerous for feet because you’re probably not as likely to notice the early warning signs of melanoma or other skin cancers there as quickly as you would in more “high profile” areas of your body.

And for a condition like melanoma, early detection is extremely important. The five-year survival rate when it’s caught early is 98 percent—or 49 out of 50. But if the cancer has reached the lymph nodes (stage III) that drops to just 2 in 3, and if it spreads to other areas of the body (stage IV) your survival odds are just 1 in 4.

All the standard rules of wearing sunscreen apply, of course. Check the label carefully for instructions. Most require you apply around 30 minutes before you head out into the sun—not once you’re already sitting on your towel! Also, you may need to reapply after swimming, or after a certain period of time.

Again, this is not an area of your health you want to take risks with. Don’t forget the sunscreen, and use it as directed.

sunburn feet

Inspect and Clean Your Feet After Your Day at the Beach

Good hygiene is always a good idea!

After you’ve finished your day of fun, make sure you wash and dry your feet thoroughly with soap and water. Get rid of all the grime, sand, and any hostile microorganisms that may have hitched a ride on your feet. Don’t forget the spaces between your toes!

As you wash your feet, inspect them closely. There may be scrapes, cuts, or other problems that you didn’t notice at first. This inspection is especially critical if you have diabetes or neuropathy, but it’s good advice for everyone after a long day of fun in the sun.

One more quick tip—do not share towels with anyone else. The fungi that cause athlete’s foot and other germs can spread from person to person this way.

Follow Up with Your Podiatrist If You Notice Problems

Our intention is that, armed with this advice, you’ll go and have a great day at the beach and your feet are going to feel great before, during, and after that experience.

That said, if you do suffer an injury on the beach, or you come back with bad heel pain or an unwelcome infection, be sure to give us a call. Painful feet can wreck just about any summer plans, and we specialize in getting them (and you) back in shape as quickly as possible.

To schedule an appointment, please call the Carmel Foot Specialists office closest to you:

  • Myers Park: (704) 334-8682
  • South Charlotte: (704) 542-8253