As the weather gets warmer, barefoot walking becomes more common. Consequently, we see many consultations for painful splinters at our offices throughout the spring and summer months. In addition to being painful, splinters can cause localized infection, changes in gait, and can lead to a host of problems if they are retained within the body.
The sole of the foot is the most common site for splinters. Patients often recall stepping on something, or experiencing a sharp pain. However, if the splinter is small enough, one may not have any recollection of stepping on something. When evaluating the area, the retained splinter may be apparent. But if a splinter penetrates to the deeper tissues, it may not be visible. There may be a callus which forms around the splinter, and if there is an associated infection there may be redness and warmth to the area. An x-ray or ultrasound of the area may also be indicated, especially for deeper splinters.
Treatment involves extracting the splinter in the office. If the splinter is embedded deeply within the foot, local anesthesia may be used to numb the area. If there is an infection or abscess associated with the splinter, the area will be irrigated and drained to prevent further infection. Splinters should not simply be ignored, because over time the area around the splinter may undergo a foreign body reaction to wall off the splinter. This will present as a firm, sometimes painful mass in the area. These foreign body reactions, as well as deeper splinters that cannot be safely extracted in an office setting, require surgical excision in an operating room setting.
Please be careful when walking barefoot, especially on wooded surfaces. If you suspect that you have a splinter, be sure to make an appointment at one of our offices for consultation.