One of the most common questions we as podiatrists get on a daily basis, is whether or not it is good to soak the foot for their condition. If soaking is good, what do I use and how do I go about doing it? Some patients are under the impression that soaking the foot is good for pretty much everything under the sun. This is not only not true, but could potentially be harmful in certain situations.
Diabetic patients and those who have poor sensation in their feet (peripheral neuropathy) should abstain from the soaking their feet under any circumstances, unless directed to do so by a doctor. Patients with acute injuries(i.e. ankle sprains) should also avoid soaking the foot, as this may lead to increased swelling and pain. Ice is the preferred treatment for a recent injury. Routine soaking of the foot for dry, calloused skin may cause worsening of the problem.
The most commonly discussed substance to soak the foot in is an Epsom salt bath with warm water. A warm (NOT HOT!) water bath with 3-4 tablespoons of Epsom salts can be beneficial for some conditions. Soaking a painful ingrown toenail for 15 minutes twice daily may help reduce the pain and inflammation associated with this problem, along with encouraging the drainage of infection. The drying effect associated with soaking of the foot may have some benefit in the treatment of an athlete's foot infection. Many patients swear that soaking their tired, achy feet at the end of the day is helpful. There is little, if any, scientific evidence to support this. The pain relief associated with soaking likely has to do with the warmth of the water providing temporary relaxation of muscles aches and spasm. The use of vinegar or a dilute iodine solution has been shown to have benefit against certain types of bacterial or fungal infections. When in doubt, ask your doctor if soaking is good for you.