Preventive Foot Health: What the Public Can Learn from the Boy Scouts
By W. Stuart Tucker, Jr., MD
Randolph Internal Medicine Group, Charlotte, NC;
Scout Leader, Boy Scouts of America;
Member, IPFH Scientific Advisory Board
Scouts are always on the go. From big events such as the National Jamboree or multi-day mountain treks at Philmont Scout Ranch, to local hikes, overnights, and community volunteer work, there’s plenty to keep them on their feet. That’s why, as both a physician and a Scout leader, I am a strong proponent of preventive foot health—protecting the feet with appropriate footwear that fits, and training the feet (and the rest of the body!) for participation in specific activities.
We work hard to help our Scouts choose the right shoes or boots and the right kind of socks and insoles if needed. A critical issue is making sure they have adequate room in their shoes. It’s too easy to try to get one more adventure out of an older pair of shoes— especially for a Scout who is growing fast—but if shoes are too tight, the experience could end up being miserable.
We encourage scouts to wear synthetic fiber socks with moisture-wicking features. Whether they’re ankle height or calf height, the socks should be high enough to protect the ankle bones. High socks also protect the foot from friction at the shoe collar (cuff or topline). When cotton socks get wet, they stay wet, and skin can become macerated and blisters can form more easily as friction increases. Scouts need to know about using liner socks for extra protection and moisture wicking. If they use liner socks, their shoes or boots must be big enough not to crowd their feet when they’re wearing both their liner and hiking socks.
For every adventure, a Scout must “Be Prepared”, which means an adequate first aid kit for the circumstances. Check this link for a good Ten Essentials list. For foot care on the trail, the first aid kit should contain at a minimum adhesive bandages, moleskin, antibiotic cream, alcohol wipes, sterile needle, tweezers, and nail clippers. More important than the products in the kit is the knowledge of how to use them and especially how to prevent having to use them.
We like to deal with these issues before we hit the trail, because the problem for many Scouts, and perhaps for young people in other kinds of groups, is that they may feel peer pressure not to stand out and say, “I’ve got a ‘hot spot’ [early blister]. I’m getting a problem” or “I need to stop and take a wrinkle out of my sock” or “I need to get a little stone out of my shoe”—and so the problem festers. Sometimes they may feel the pressure of expediency to make unwise choices. For example, they’ve been at camp for three days and they put on dirty or wet socks or they want to run around the camp with bare feet. Those are not good decisions. We try to guide them with information about preventing injuries and with leadership by example, particularly by the older boys with trail experience. A foot in trouble puts the Scout (or adult) and the entire team in trouble.
We want to make sure everybody in the group feels comfortable with the idea that we are in this game together. Everyone wants to have a good time, but if any one person has a foot issue, it is up to all of us to help solve it. That patrol or troop spirit will make everyone’s experience more fun. This philosophy goes for Scout leaders too. As adult leaders we are teaching these skills, but we’re also on the adventures, on the hikes, on the backpacking trips. We have to manage our own foot care as well as helping the Scouts to manage theirs.