Carol Gibson used to spend plenty of time during the warm weather months in either sandals or going barefoot.

Not anymore.

Now, the 69-year-old resident of Northfield wishes she'd spent more time worrying about her feet and less being concerned about footwear fashion.

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"Good health is from the tip of your toes to the top of your head. Without your feet, you are in sad shape. We take so much for granted. So often, we don't take care of our feet, and we certainly need to," said Gibson. "I should have been wiser then and realized that when you lose something like the mobility that your feet provide, you've lost an awful lot. It's not worth the fun of running barefoot or the style of wearing the 'in' shoe."

For doctors who specialize in podiatric medicine and surgery, summer is a busy time. Ask a doctor and they'll tell you when the weather is warm, their treatment of foot injuries increases.

One of the biggest threats to summer feet is going barefoot. From burns to cuts and puncture injuries, summertime harbors a full lineup of threats to those who shed their shoes.

But covering up isn't a guaranteed way to keep your soles safe.

Flip-flops and sandals may provide some protection, but because they lack any real support, are also the culprits in many summer foot ailments.

You can't really predict who will have problems from wearing sandals, said Dr. Charles T. Murphy, who has a practice in Linwood and has helped Gibson with her foot issues.

"The incidents of heel pain in women increases exponentially in the summer. That's a direct result of wearing flip-flops and sandals," Murphy said.

Although they are fashionable, flirty and fun, flip-flops and sandals simply don't have enough intrinsic heel and arch support, the doctor said.

"That's really the key in a nutshell," said Murphy, who does his surgery at Shore Medical Center in Somers Point. "What happens is overuse syndromes develop, and the most of which is called plantar fascitiis. It's probably a top-five condition seen by podiatrists."

Pat Muszynski's foot problems were exacerbated by her wearing flip-flops at least four years ago.

"I tripped and fell. I was wearing the flip-flops, and I was running through the house to get a phone. I tripped over the dog gate, and the front of the flip-flop got caught on the front of the gate," said Muszynski, 71, of the Manahawkin section of Stafford Township. "I had a broken bone inside the ankle of my left foot, the talus bone."

Now Muszynski can't wear regular flip-flops or flat shoes. She has to always wear footware with an arch.

She has, however, found a way to occasionally shed her shoes in summer.

"There are FitFlops. They look like a flip-flop, but they have arch support, and they are very supportive of your foot. They are not really great, but they are the only things I can wear," Muszynski said.

Dr. Jeff Mazzatta, a podiatrist at Southern Ocean Medical Center in Manahawkin, said whether a person finds a shoe that is supportive to their feet has nothing to do with cost.

"You can go out and find a $150 shoe that will not be supportive. You could go out and find a $20 pair of shoes that are probably the best things for your feet. I have seen it in my own practice. I've had patients leave my office, and after I instructed them in what they should be looking for in a shoe ... pick up a $20 pair of shoes, come back to me and ask me to evaluate it, and I said, 'This is a great shoe,'" Mazzatta said.

Dr. Joseph Daniel, an orthopaedic foot and ankle surgeon with Rothman Institute at AtlantiCare, said various factors determine when a person who wears flip-flops and sandals all day will begin to experience foot pain.

"It really depends upon their level of activity. What is it exactly they are participating in," said Daniel, who added he will see patients with problems caused by sandals and flip-flops from early May to mid-October.

It is prudent for people to inspect their feet three times per day during the summer as a precaution, Daniel said. In the morning after a shower, people should look in between their toes for cracks, dry skin or abrasions and do the same in the middle of the day and before resting for the evening, Daniel said.

The doctor said just as people wouldn't wear a sundress or a tuxedo jogging, people need to pick the right shoe for the activity they are engaging in.

Buy shoes at a reputable store, Daniel said.

"Get your feet - both of them - measured, and shop in the late afternoon or evening. Your feet can be a half size larger at the end of the day than when you get out of bed in the morning," wrote Daniel earlier this year. "What you wear on your feet impacts your whole body, and your overall orthopaedic health."

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Taking care of your toes

Summer can be a difficult time for your feet, with the warm weather, bright sun and the tendency to wear light footwear or go barefoot all increasing the risk of injury. Here are some issues to be aware of and advice for avoiding foot injuries during the warm weather.

•Wear sunblock. Put it on the tops of feet as well as bottoms, which are exposed when you sit in a lounge chair.

•Limit time in flip-flops. You need them by the pool and in public showers, because you can pick up plantar-wart virus by walking barefoot around the pool. Plus, who knows what bacteria the showers hold? But avoid flip-flops as everyday footwear.

• If you do wear flip-flops or sandals, make sure they fit well.

•Wear wicking socks when exercising outdoors. Unlike cotton, wicking socks take moisture away from skin and help our skin breathe easier, reducing the risk of fungal infections.

•Remove athletic shoes and socks after working out. Take out the shoe's removable liner; otherwise, the shoe will stay wet between it and the sole. Put the liner outside to dry.

•Stretch your feet to prevent strains. Roll a ball around your arch to stretch your muscles. Also, sit down, bring the soles of your feet together and intertwine your toes.

•Pay attention if your foot hurts. Anything that happens to your feet affects the rest of your body, as you overcompensate because of the injury. This can lead to problems with the other foot or injuries to your hips or knees.

•Be careful about pedicures. People without medical issues are at risk for ingrown toenails and infection.

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