Plantar warts and sports are an “iconic” duo of foot conditions and risk factors. Many athletes are looking for a quick fix for their plantar wart woes. But the truth is, switching your mindset towards prevention and medical foot care is just as important.
Let’s look at our plantar wart guide for athletes and gym-goers! We’ll answer some of your most pressing questions and dive into the following:
- What are plantar warts?
- Why are athletes prone to plantar warts?
- Preventing plantar warts: foot hygiene and foot care
- Prevention plantar warts: shoe choices
What are Plantar Warts?
Plantar warts are viral skin infections caused by the Human Papilloma Virus(HPV) that appear on the bottom of the feet.
Many people assume that HPV is solely a sexually transmitted infection, but there are over 200 strains, some causing warts and others causing cancer. People usually contract this virus strain by walking or running barefoot on an infected surface, which enters the skin via contact or through small cracks in the skin.
Warts appear round and look deceptively like corns, calluses and blisters. They result from the body’s failure to fight off the HPV, which can sometimes disappear on its own depending on the strain. Symptoms and signs of plantar warts include:
- A hard and “grainy” growth on the bottom of the foot, often on the ball of the foot or base of the toes
- On dark skin, it may appear lighter than the surrounding skin
- Calluses surrounding the wart if it has started to grow inward
- “Wart seeds” – which look like a small black dot in the wart
- Pain when walking or touching the wart
- Mosaic warts or a cluster of warts
Treatment options from a foot clinic include cryotherapy and needling. You can read about treatments in more detail here.
Why are Athletes Prone to Plantar Warts?
Plantar warts have the potential to debilitate athletes and gym-goers and severely impact their physical progress. But why are the physically fit more likely to contract them in the first place?
HPV loves warm, moist environments. These include communal showers and locker rooms where sports teams typically congregate without shoes or socks. So without adequate foot protection, members of the same team can unknowingly pass on this troublesome skin infection to each other.
Competitive swimmers are also at risk since the walking area surrounding the swimming pools is also communal with heavy, barefoot traffic. Furthermore, the rough surfaces of pool decks may cause micro-trauma to the bottom of the feet, increasing the risk of viral contraction.
Athletes and fitness lovers are also more likely to experience hyperhidrosis, or excessive sweating of the feet, which can increase the risk. Athletes often also share infected gym equipment, such as mats, without thorough cleaning.
Plantar Wart Prevention: Foot Hygiene and Foot Care
The best way to prevent plantar warts is to strictly monitor your foot health and keep your feet clean. If you already have plantar warts, these practices can help prevent the condition from worsening.
Here are some practices to abide by:
- Follow a daily foot care routine, being careful not to miss days when you play sports or go to the gym. It should include cleaning, exfoliation, moisturizing, and more. Here is an excellent one to follow!
- Lightly dust your feet with baby powder. This can also help with foot odour! You can also try Gehwol Foot Powder.
- Wear moisture-wicking socks, foot pads or other protective products.
- Never go barefoot in a communal area like a locker room, shower or pool deck. Always wear protective footwear like sandals or shower shoes while in these spaces.
- Don’t scratch or pick at any pre-existing plantar warts.
- Air out your shoes after using them.
- Always wash your hands if you touch one of your plantar warts.
- Don’t share shoes, socks, towels and other products with other people.
Plantar Wart Prevention: Shoe Choices
Athletes can’t avoid keeping their feet cooped up in runners all day. What they can do, however, is make shoe choices that help to prevent the growth of plantar warts.
Shoes should be breathable and waterproof. You know how some runners have those mini holes in the upper that let air enter and escape? Those are the ones you should be on the hunt for! The ventilation keeps your foot environment fresh and healthy while you spend the day exerting energy. When shopping for shoes or attending a shoe fitting, stress the importance of finding shoes like these by asking for breathable options.
You can also look for shoes made with GORE-TEX fabric, which repels moisture while letting water vapour from sweat exit the shoe.
Looking For More Info on Plantar Warts?
We know that athletes are at risk of developing plantar warts, but did you know children are also vulnerable? If you’re a concerned parent, check out this blog on managing plantar warts in children.