I stepped on a sea urchin. Now what?

Sea Urchen
Sea Urchin Sting

You won’t find many sea urchins in the Kansas City area.  But if you’ve left the snow and cold for a getaway to the sun, sand and beautiful sea, you need to keep your feet protected whenever walking along the beach or even swimming just offshore.

The four of us (two podiatrists, by the way) had just swum to shore from our boat, leaving our worries (and beach shoes) behind. The sand was wonderfully soft and warm beneath our bare feet in front of The Soggy Dollar Bar on Jost Van Dyke in the British Virgin Islands. But we had to go exploring.  The beach briefly ended and a sign pointed the way to Ivan’s Stress Free Bar up a path to another beach, avoiding the rocky shoreline. We followed it.

Unfortunately, the path was worse.  The sharp, painful pebbles that lined the narrow trail wasn’t exactly what our bare feet had in mind. Once we were on the other side, we wondered how two foot specialists could have found ourselves in that predicament and vowed not to make that mistake again.  We joked how this would make a great blog.

beach1
Rocky path along the beach

Instead of taking the path back, we swam around the large rocks lining the shore. The water was relatively shallow, and while swimming, we had to be careful to avoid the rocks that were submerged just beneath the surface. Podiatrist number two was right behind me when I heard an expletive, and he told me that he had just stepped on something sharp.  We decided to head back to the boat.

Close inspection of the bottom of his right foot revealed about a dozen dark spots and small needle-like projections buried beneath the skin.  Nothing was really sticking out of the skin. The skin was smooth and it wasn’t that painful to touch, although it was obvious that the spines were pretty deep.  My friend, Podiatrist Number Two, had stepped on a sea urchin.

 

Sea urchins look like little round brown or black balls completely covered by long, dark needles, or spines.  While the spines do contain a very small amount of venom, it is usually not enough to cause harm to humans.  If treated appropriately, a sea urchin encounter should only be a temporary nuisance.

So, here are the six rules we stuck to in treating his sea urchin injury:

  1. Don’t try to dig out the spines that are buried beneath the skin.  You will most likely do more damage to your foot by trying to dig them out.  Your own “surgery” is more likely to lead to an infection than leaving them in and treating them as i describe below.
  2. If a spine is sticking out of the skin, you can try to pull it out with a tweezers, but it’s likely to break apart, leaving part of the spine below the skin.  That’s ok.
  3. You can use a sharp blade to cut off any part of the spines that are actually sticking out of the skin.
  4. Soak your foot in hot (but obviously tolerable – don’t burn yourself) water.  This will help soften the spines.
  5. Apply vinegar with a sponge or soak in vinegar.  This will also help soften and even dissolve the spines beneath the skin.  We didn’t have vinegar on our boat, but we did have lemons, which have shown to be very effective.
  6. Apply or soak in vinegar (or lemon juice) several times a day for a couple days until the spines have disappeared.

In the case of my barefoot podiatrist friend, the spines had completely dissolved, showing no signs of the spines or even an entrance wound by the second day after the encounter with his spiny friend.

So, the bottom line is that you need to protect your feet by wearing beach or swimming shoes when walking around the beach or even swimming in the ocean.  You never know what may be lurking just below the surface.

If you’ve stepped on something, sea urchin or otherwise, and you have pain, redness or an open wound, come see our foot specialists at Kansas City Foot and Ankle, and let us help get you back on your feet, quickly and comfortably.