Untreated foot health problems put a needless strain on many people’s lives
“Many foot health problems go untreated. Too often, people think that a little pain and discomfort is normal. In reality, they are a sign of the feet not being well,” Professor of Nursing Science Minna Stolt says.
Even health care professionals sometimes fail to consider or assess the health of their clients’ feet, or to guide clients to seek help with their foot health problems. For this issue, Stolt’s research aims to develop new models and instruments.
Minna Stolt took up her professorship at the Department of Nursing Science on the Kuopio Campus of the University of Eastern Finland this August – although initially working remotely from Turku. Her key areas of research pertain to foot health, functional health, and nursing care that promotes rehabilitation.
“I am a podiatrist by training, and my studies in nursing science opened up an opportunity to conduct research into foot health. I hope that this professorship will contribute to increased appreciation of podiatry; after all, feet are a tremendously important but often forgotten part of people’s overall health.”
Stolt completed her Master’s and doctoral degrees at the University of Turku, where she also stayed on as a postdoctoral researcher. She is grateful for the opportunities created by the University of Turku to bring foot health research in the field of nursing science. In her doctoral dissertation focusing on the foot health of older people in home care, she developed an instrument for assessing foot health, which is currently being used in older people care services of the City of Turku.
“Using this assessment instrument, all clients are checked for the most common foot health problems, such as skin or nail problems, structural problems, and foot pain, at least once a year. Based on the assessment, home care personnel can treat the problems or refer the client to, for example, a podiatrist or a physician.”
In the future, the assessment instrument will be expanded to cover not just the foot, but also the knee, the hip and the pelvis.
Stolt’s research showed that few older people have healthy feet. One in three had foot pain, and even more had circulation problems, toe deformities, and swelling.
“Untreated foot health problems make it difficult to for people to move and cope with everyday activities, and some people are afraid to go out at all because of these problems.”
Foot checks should be routine
At the moment, Stolt studies, among other things, the foot health of people with rheumatoid arthritis, and how their foot health is taken into consideration in health care. Rheumatoid arthritis is associated with several foot health problems, and symptoms of the hands and the rest of the body may complicate self-care of the feet.
“Many patients have pointed out that no attention is paid to the feet unless they demand it. Foot checks should be routine in the treatment of these patients.”
“A key element in my research projects is mapping the competence of health care professionals. In this project, one of the questions we are looking at is the ability of nurses to guide people with rheumatoid arthritis to follow exercise recommendations.”
Besides rheumatoid arthritis, also for example diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and skin diseases, such as psoriasis, may cause foot health problems.
“Furthermore, problems related to the musculoskeletal system and passive lifestyle are increasingly common.”
Foot health is also strongly associated with well-being at work in professions where people spend a lot of time on their feet.
“If, for example, a care worker’s feet are not well, it weakens both the efficiency of, and satisfaction with, work.”
According to Stolt, good care for foot health problems exists, people just have to know where to seek it.
“A practical nurse with competence in podiatric care will be able to help with common skin and nail changes. A podiatrist can help with more challenging and complex issues, such as individual treatment of a painful hallux valgus, post-surgery rehabilitation, and choice of shoes. Physical therapists, on the other hand, have expertise to deal with misalignments of the entire lower limb, for example.”
“In all of Finland, there are less than one hundred podiatrists working in public health care, and queues may be long. However, podiatrists also work in the private sector, so care is available to those willing to pay for it.”
Stolt hopes that foot health, just like oral health, will become something that is looked after throughout one’s life, even before problems arise.
“The condition of the feet, nails and cuticles should be checked daily when washing them. Normal skin is unbroken and flexible, and any thickening of the skin is an indication of abnormal strain.”
“Many people weaken their foot health by wearing shoes of the wrong size, or shoes that otherwise don’t fit. According to current understanding, healthy feet don’t need very robust shoes, either. Shoes that have a thin and flexible sole allow the numerous small muscles of the feet to do their natural work.”
Nursing science brings together a number of health care professionals
According to Stolt, a generational change is taking place in nursing science.
“In Finland, education and research in nursing science began more than 40 years ago, and many of the field’s pioneers are about to retire. It is great to be able to exchange ideas with them in this role, and to further develop the field.”
“Nowadays, nursing science is being studied not only by registered nurses and public health nurses, but also by many other health care professionals, such as physical therapists, occupational therapists, podiatrists, oral hygienists and optometrists. They all share an interest in patient care in various health care settings. Multi-professionalism also brings new perspectives to research.”
“Research projects in nursing science are often based on interdisciplinary collaboration and they typically make use of novel technology. For example, the quality of record entries can be examined by means of machine learning, and mobile applications are developed both to support students’ clinical training and to guide patients, as well as for health-related self-reporting.”
Stolt’s own research also addresses the health care system, the quality of care and the client perspective in more detail.
“The ageing population and issues related to their mobility are always close to my heart, and we are currently examining what kind of new solutions could be used to support the mobility of older people living in long-term care units.”
“Good research collaboration in the Turku region will continue, although new openings are now being planned in Kuopio. Opportunities for collaboration with, for example, Kuopio University Hospital, are interesting,” Stolt says.
- Professor of Nursing Science, University of Eastern Finland, 1 August 2022–
- Title of Docent in Nursing Science, University of Turku, 2017
- Doctor of Health Sciences, University of Turku, 2013
- Teacher’s Qualification in Health care, University of Turku, 2009
- Master of Health Sciences, University of Turku, 2006
- Podiatrist (Bachelor of Health Care), Helsinki Polytechnic Stadia, 2003
- University Lecturer and Research Group Director, University of Turku, 2018–
- University Teacher, University of Turku, 2012–2018
- Project Researcher, Grant-funded Researcher and Senior Researcher, University of Turku, 2008–2016
For further information, please contact:
Professor Minna Stolt, minna.stolt (a) uef.fi, +358 50 470 8510
Faculty of Science, Forestry and Technology, School of Forest Sciences