Understanding the Connection between Podiatric Conditions and Mental Health

The connection between physical fitness and mental wellness is pretty easy to understand. When something in your body hurts, it grabs your attention and makes it difficult to focus on other things. When you’re feeling sad or anxious, you may find yourself to be constantly tired but unable to get restful sleep. 

It makes sense then that this sort of dynamic continues to be at play when it comes to podiatric conditions or medical concerns affecting the feet and lower legs. Recognizing this interplay is important for both podiatrists and their patients, as poor mental health conditions can also negatively affect podiatric treatment outcomes. Here are a few connections to consider.

Podiatric Conditions and Mental Health

Mental Health Disorders Can Result in Poor Self-Care

In a 2020 patient demographic review presented by Singapore’s Ministry of Health, depression and anxiety were ranked among the top mental health conditions in both public hospitals and polyclinics. Patients with these conditions can neglect their health and hygiene. Not eating or sleeping well, not showering, and avoiding physical activity can take a toll on their bodies. They may not notice when they have an infection that spreads because it was left untreated or that they fail to follow the prescribed treatment plan. Some may even persist in wearing incorrect footwear because they believe they don’t deserve a better pair. They may engage in risky behaviour that results in fractures or may feel too ashamed to seek medical care.

This might explain the severity of a foot condition or why an injury keeps recurring. In cases like this, a podiatrist Singapore residents trust might want to gently ask after the patient’s psychological condition. If the patient feels stressed, has trouble sleeping, or has experienced changes in appetite, it may be worth recommending a psychological consultation.

Mental Distress Can Manifest as Physical Symptoms 

Psychosomatic disorders are not uncommon medical phenomena. Dermatological conditions like eczema and psoriasis can become aggravated when the patient is feeling stressed. This may be caused by the presence of higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol in the bloodstream. Pain is another common manifestation. Research conducted by the Southern Cross University in Australia found that the mental health of their patients altered the reported severity of their foot pain. Additionally, they found a possible correlation between muscle atrophy and avoidance of physical activity, which contributed to chronic foot pain.

It is also possible for mental illness to affect the body’s responsiveness to treatment. A 2008 observational study done at the Careggi University Hospital in Florence, Italy, followed the progress of elderly patients with foot ulcers caused by diabetes. The patients were also assessed for depressive symptoms. Researchers found that foot ulcers in patients with depressive symptoms took longer to heal, and some patients experienced ulcer recurrence.

If a foot disorder does not have a detectable cause or does not respond to treatment, podiatrists should consider if it is possibly related to stress or psychological causes.

Foot Disorders Can Aggravate Existing Mental Conditions

Overly sweaty feet, thick calluses, and even fungal nail problems are all fairly common conditions, but for patients with mental health issues, these foot disorders can add to their existing anxiety. This may make it more difficult for patients to seek medical attention as they may consider their problems as repulsive and embarrassing.

Some medical conditions can also cause patients to regularly experience discomfort or even pain in their extremities. Diabetes has the potential to damage the nerves in the legs and feet, causing neuropathy. It can also affect blood circulation to the feet. An early podiatric consultation can assess risks, help prevent serious complications and reduce the need for aggressive interventions like limb amputation.

Patients with arthritis might be prescribed to do physical therapy to strengthen their joints and relieve the swelling. The therapy may cause some short-term pain while the movements are being performed, and this can be discouraging for some patients. Arthritis can severely affect the quality of life of the patient, causing chronic pain and limited mobility. As such, it is not surprising that many studies have shown that patients with arthritis are highly likely to develop anxiety or depression. A 2011 study conducted by researchers from the National University of Singapore found that 26 per cent of patients with rheumatoid arthritis had anxiety. Additionally, 15 per cent had depression and 11 per cent experienced both symptoms.

To encourage patients to continue their treatments, podiatric therapies administered to patients with chronic conditions may benefit from being complemented with psychological counselling. This offers a more holistic approach to treating the patient and gives them a better chance of recovery.

The feet may be the farthest thing from the head, but wellness has always been about recognizing that these different parts make up a single body. Both patient and podiatrist can benefit from understanding this connection and taking it into consideration in the formulation and implementation of podiatric treatments.