Many older adults struggle with foot pain. One in three seniors over the age of 65 experiences pain, stiffness, or aching in their feet. What are some common foot problems as we age and what can be done to prevent or resolve the issue?
It may be true that the eyes (okay, ayes) have it, but for most of us, it’s about the feet as well. The American Podiatric Medical Association reports by the time someone reaches age 50, on average he or she has walked about 75,000 miles. Abraham Lincoln famously said, “Be sure you put your feet in the right place, then stand firm.” Words to live by aside, what if your feet become such an issue that the simple act of standing firm—or in some cases standing at all—is fraught with pain and discomfort?
According to studies, one in three Americans over age 65 suffers from some form of foot pain, stiffness, or aching. Daily functions that may include getting up from a bed or chair, walking to the door, climbing stairs, preparing meals, or doing tasks such as laundry or grocery shopping are curtailed when feet are compromised. What’s more, when foot pain is chronic, balance is impacted and our chances of falling increase. Each year, 32,000 Americans die from falls. Pain that results in limited mobility can cause weight gain, weakness, and decreased heart function to name just a few repercussions.
So what are some of the leading causes of foot pain?
Years of Standing
Decades of standing changes our feet for the worse, something that may be amplified if you’ve worked on your feet for long periods of time. In either case, arches flatten and become less flexible, ankles and joints stiffen, the natural padding under the heel wears away causing fat pad atrophy, and the foot gets wider and longer.
Shoes that don’t fit well are a more common problem than most people think. Remember stuffing your feet into a pair of tight-fitting strappy sandals for a prom or formal, or buying shoes too small or narrow anyway just because you loved them? Perhaps that was the beginning of not-so-best practices when it comes to our feet. Three out of four people over age 65 wear shoes that are too small, and narrow or high-heeled shoes, or those that offer no protection, are other culprits in the progression of pain and discomfort.
Diseases like diabetes may cause diminished blood circulation and nerve damage in the feet, as well as foot ulcers. Poor circulation from hardening of the arteries, or peripheral artery disease, both found in older adults, also have a negative impact. Obesity, knee, hip, or back pain, toenail fungal infections, plantar fasciitis, Morton’s Neuroma, and tendonitis impact the foot, as do bunions and calluses which can cause significant suffering, making life on our feet a real struggle. Even something as seemingly cosmetic as cracked heels (older skin produces less oil and elastin) can cause pain, impacting mobility.
While we can’t stop the progression of aging, paying attention to our feet before conditions become unmanageable can go a long way toward ensuring our senior years are not marked by a foot-related slowdown in activity. The following seven steps can help:
Ingrown or overgrown toenails that rub against shoes, and rough and callused heels and balls of the feet, need routine care.
- Frequent Application of Moisturizer
After bathing, before bed, and any other time of the day or night when bare feet can be accessed are good times to moisturize. Use a pumice stone or other specially-designed dry skin tool to remove dead skin if necessary (this can be done when wet, or before or after the bath) then moisturize. Be sure to give lotion time to fully absorb into the feet before wearing socks so you are not moisturizing the socks!
One of the many benefits of yoga is its emphasis on stretching every part of the body, including the feet. Stretching is known to reduce muscle tension and mitigate knot formation before it becomes painful. You don’t need to be enrolled in a yoga class, however. Hundreds of YouTube videos and other resources provide user-friendly stretching instructions for the feet.
Certain brick and mortar stores actually still measure the foot to help you find shoes with optimal fit. There are various apps and other online tools that will give you an accurate shoe size and width, which you can then take to find the best fitting shoes. Amazon and other entities also feature hundreds of foot measuring devices from now and yesteryear, so to speak.
These help soothe dry skin and bunions, and relieve cramping and other forms of muscle tension.
- Uncross Your Legs—That’s Right!
Did you know that crossing your legs for extended periods of time inhibits blood flow to the feet? If you must cross, a habit into which we all fall, remember to uncross frequently.
Depending on your state of foot health, an annual or more frequent podiatrist appointment (your doctor will tell you) will help keep your feet in top working order. In many cases, it can prevent the onslaught of pain and discomfort at the outset, when an issue is first detected.
“7 Ways to Take Care of Your Feet for Healthy Aging,” written by Beth Herman, Amada blog contributor