Athlete’s foot is, and remains, a taboo subject. Pathogens are lurking everywhere, poised to exploit any lack of attention or defensive frailties. They have little hope with Bundesliga goalkeeper Anna Klink, though, whose defensive skills aren’t limited to making great saves.
Roll to the ground, get back up, catch the ball safely and launch it far into the opponents’ half – Bayer 04 Leverkusen’s goalkeeper Anna Klink trains using drills like these seven times a week ready for her team’s league game at the weekend. As the 24-year-old soccer player knows, her hands and above all her feet are important. “I use my hands to block the fiercest of shots, including at close range, but even greater demands are placed on my feet,” she says.
Whether sprinting, decelerating, jumping, turning, shooting or blocking a shot or pass, Klink’s feet work hard. As a goalkeeper, she makes lots of short, sharp movements. “The greatest pressure is on the front part of my foot, including my toes,” she explains. That’s why soccer players frequently suffer injuries to their toenails and the surrounding skin. Their tight footwear and mechanical stress lead to nail injuries, blisters and fine cracks. Worse still, the warm and humid interior of soccer boots make such injuries a perfect breeding ground for fungal pathogens.
That’s why players pay a great deal of attention to their feet. “A sportsperson’s feet are their most important asset. If I have a problem with my feet, I can’t perform to the best of my ability,” says the keeper. For this reason, she considers good, professional foot care and regular exercises to strengthen her foot muscles to be vital.
This is where the physio department, headed by Jacqueline Ciompala and Laura Gerlich, and team physician Dr. Stefanie Meyer zu Altenschildesche come in. At the start of the season, the players are examined to spot any problem areas and offer targeted assistance. “Footwear needs to be regularly checked and adjusted, using support inserts if necessary to prevent discomfort. Boots are also disinfected after each game,” explains Ciompala.
And what if a fungal infection is detected? “In most cases, we use a cream containing bifonazole, which rapidly tackles the problem,” continues Ciompala. “Many people find it unpleasant having to touch the affected area to treat athlete’s foot. The applicator that comes with the new Canesten Extra cream is a real help because it means cream can be applied to areas that are difficult to reach, such as between the toes, without any contact,” explains Dr. Meyer zu Altenschildesche.
What Causes Athlete’s Foot?
In the vast majority of cases, athlete’s foot is caused by the fungal pathogen Trichophyton rubrum, which feeds on keratin – a key substance in our skin, hair and nails. The spores use enzymes to penetrate deep into the stratum corneum, utilizing their special structures to attach themselves firmly. Healthy skin can defend itself against these attacks, but when it is injured or softened, the fungus finds it easier to penetrate the skin barrier.
The fungus forms thread-like filaments called hyphae, which penetrate the stratum corneum. They then spread and join to form a network. Athlete’s foot generally occurs between the toes – the place where moisture is most likely to accumulate, offering the best conditions for the fungus. However, it can also spread to the sole and arch of the foot.
The risk of infection is highest in places where people frequently walk barefoot, such as hotel rooms, fitness studios and public swimming pools. Pools are particularly high-risk areas because of the moisture. Left untreated, athlete’s foot can weaken the skin’s natural defense system to the extent that a Streptococcus infection develops, which manifests itself as erysipelas. This severe skin infection is associated with high fever and necessitates hospitalization.
“I haven’t been affected so far, but the team speaks very honestly about such things, so it’s no secret if one of my team-mates has a fungal infection,” reveals Klink.
Not everybody is as open as the Leverkusen team, but there’s no reason to be ashamed. A large number of people get athlete’s foot and fungal nail infections. They’re not an indication of poor personal hygiene. What’s more, it takes just a few weeks to get athlete’s foot under control – and another infection can be prevented by following a few simple rules. It all comes down to effective defense!
How To Prevent Athlete’s Foot
- Ensure your footwear and feet are well ventilated immediately after sporting activities.
- Only use your own towel and footwear.
- Dry your feet thoroughly, especially between your toes.
- If necessary, use a skin sanitizer to disinfect your feet – especially between your toes.
- Change your socks and towels after each training session and wash them at a temperature of at least 60 degrees.
- To prevent rubbing, even when your feet are swollen, don’t buy sports footwear that is too small.
- Always wear bathing shoes when using public swimming pools, saunas, showers or other wet facilities.
- Don’t walk barefoot on hotel carpets.
- Choose footwear with a breathable upper.
- Regularly apply a disinfectant shoe spray to your footwear.
- Don’t share towels, socks or accessories such as nail scissors, nail files, etc. with other family members.
- Regularly check your toes, the spaces between them and the soles of your feet for any changes such as cracking, flaking, reddening or blisters.
- Treat injuries immediately.