Getting to the Sole of the Problem
Feet are the foundation of our mobility. They’re incredibly complex structures that have borne the brunt of our weight and the pounding of the surfaces we move on for the vast majority of our lives. It comes as no surprise that like many other facets of our bodies, our feet change as we age.
Why Our Feet Change
There are several reasons are feet change in structure, size, and shape as we age.
- Ligaments and Tendons become slack and lose their strength which causes a flattening and lengthening of the foot and toes by as much as a half shoe size or more.
- Weight gain can also contribute further to these changes by putting extra pressure on the feet and ankles.
- As you age your body changes how fat is stored. This includes the fat pads that cushion the bottom of your feet. They become thinner and your feet absorb less shock creating pain when walking.
Most Common Foot Conditions
Pain resulting from plantar fasciitis and arthritis can be common. The tendon that runs the length of the bottom of your foot is called the plantar fascia tendon. The structural changes in your foot associated with age and sometimes weight can create a stretching of this tendon and the arch of your foot tends to fall. The tendon becomes inflamed causing a stabbing pain typically in the heel and also most common in the morning. Arthritis can also develop in the feet after years of stress on the joints. With over 28 bones in the foot and more than 30 joints, the foot is a prime location for arthritis. There are several interventions to treat the pain associated with arthritis and plantar fasciitis. Refer to the interventions section below.
Bunions, or bony protrusions, can result from the change in shape, as can hammertoe. Hammertoe is a condition where the toe is pulled back and up relative to the other toes. It most frequently occurs in the second toe. Genetics and gender can play a role in whether or not people suffer from bunions. Women are more likely than men to develop bunions mostly because of their shoe-wearing habits.
Feet & Diabetic Neuropathy
Nerve damage that occurs if you have diabetes is called diabetic neuropathy. High blood sugar can injure nerves throughout the body. More specifically peripheral neuropathy is the most common type of diabetic neuropathy that affects the feet and legs first followed by the hands and arms. Ulcers, infections, and bone and joint damage can result from peripheral neuropathy.
Healthy Feet Interventions
- Proper fitting shoes along with orthotics or inserts can increase comfort and help support falling arches. Finding the perfect shoe from the Mayo Clinic has other helpful tips on shoe size and type.
- Daily stretching for just a few minutes each morning can help to reduce joint stiffness. A Silver Sneakers article titled, 4 Foot Exercises You Should Do Today, has helpful instructions with videos.
- Maintain overall health and schedule yearly wellness checks which should include discussions about foot care.
- Keep feet clean and dry and monitor for wounds. This is particularly important if you suffer from diabetes. Trim nails straight across, and wear clean, dry socks and proper fitting shoes. Don’t go barefoot.
- Lose extra weight. Additional stress to your feet occurs as a result of being overweight.
- There are surgical interventions as well as medication and other types of treatment for various foot problems. Don’t hesitate to see a professional if you have pain in your feet.
Foot problems can have a cyclic effect. Pain in the feet can decrease physical activity, which results in impaired balance and an increased fear of falling resulting in a further decrease in physical activity and an overall increase in foot problems. Decreased physical activity resulting from associated foot pain can also result in an increased risk of depression which can lead to a further decrease in physical activity. Foot problems represent risk factors for the development of many other conditions such as high blood pressure, arthritis, obesity, osteoporosis, and diabetes. The bottom line is that foot care is incredibly important because the resulting impact can be an overall decrease in physical activity which leads to additional problems.
Healthy Feet Take Aways
- Although there are several common age-related changes associated with your feet, there are steps you can take to help promote healthy feel-good feet.
- Foot problems are associated with the development of conditions such as high blood pressure, arthritis, obesity, osteoporosis, and diabetes. Because foot health has been associated with overall health, make foot care a priority.
- Don’t ignore or minimize foot pain. Pain is not normal. A foot specialist, or podiatrist, as well as your primary care provider, should be seen to diagnose and treat the problem.
- Staying independent and mobile starts with proper foot care.
Coping with the Changes your Feet Undergo as you Age | UCLAHealth.org (2018, Aug 6).
Diabetes and Foot Care | MayoClinic.org (2021, Jun 5).
Diabetic Neuropathy | MayoClinic.org (2022, Apr 29).
Foot and Ankle Arthritis | ClevelandClinic.org (2019, Jan 1).
Foot Disorders in the Elderly: A Mini-Review | ScienceDirect.com (2018, March).
Foot Problems in Older Adults | PubMed Central (2017, Aug 30).
Plantar Fasciitis | MayoClinic.org (2022, Jan 20).