The human foot is a very complex part of the body— housing 26 bones. The high-complexity coupled with heavy-duty wear-and-tear that our feet endure throughout our lives places a lot of strain and stress on our feet through the years.
Each foot bone must be in a specific place in order for everything to work as it should. However, as we age, our cells hold less water which impacts the collagen levels in the ligaments and tendons in our feet— the tendons get tighter, and the ligaments become looser. These shifts can lead to pain, bony growths, and other issues.
In addition to less water in our cells, circulation also diminishes as we age, which reduces our ability to heal, making older adults more prone to infections and other problems.
As the human population lives longer, overuse and joint injuries in the feet are also becoming increasingly common.
Common Feet Problems for Seniors
After spending a lifetime supporting and carrying body weight while wearing ill-fitting and uncomfortable shoes, the feet eventually become worn out. The most common feet issues we see in older Americans include:
- Bunions: These painful, bony bumps typically develop on the outside of the big toe joint.
- Corns, callouses, dry skin: Corns and calluses are thick patches of dead skin. They form to protect sensitive areas of the feet. Corns are often accompanied by dry skin—which can be painful in its own right and lead to cracked skin that is prone to infection.
- Hammertoe: The term "hammertoe" refers to a toe that points upward, instead of lying flat.
- Structural changes: As we age, the fat pads on the bottom of our feet become thin, which often produces pain with every step as well and lessened support for the arch.
- Arthritis: The foot has 33 joints. Because of this, osteoarthritis can be a significant source of pain and lessened mobility for older adults.
- Fungal infections, ingrown toenails, and other toenail problems
- Diabetes-related feet problems
- Heel pain
Pain and soreness
Finding Proper Shoes
If you are experiencing any of the above feet-related conditions, it's important that you seek care from a podiatrist. Also, ensure you have properly fitting, supportive, comfortable shoes, and limit how much you walk around barefoot.
Wearing the right shoes can make a huge difference in your foot health and can also help prevent foot problems from having the chance to develop. Many people may not realize that as our feet change as we age, we may need to buy larger shoe sizes to accommodate the shifting bones and ligaments.
If you are going to buy new shoes, experts recommend doing your shoe shopping later in the day. This is because over the course of the day, gravity causes the feet to swell—making our feet a bit larger in the afternoon than they are in the morning. So, if your shoes fit well and comfortably in the evening, they will likely fit you well any time.
When you bring your new shoes home, wear them around your home for 20-30 minutes to make sure they fit perfectly. If there is a problem, you can return your shoes without any issues because they won't have sole marks on them.
Keeping Feet Healthy
Experts say that for people not experiencing any significant issues with their feet, a yearly trip to the podiatrist will likely suffice. But, if you are having constant foot pain or you have a systematic disease like diabetes that increases your risk of developing feet issues, it's important to see a podiatrist on a regular basis to ensure small problems don't turn into significant issues. If you notice skin changes, infection, pain, or anything you're unsure about, schedule a pediatric check-up.
It's also important that older people check their feet daily. If it's hard for you to bend over and look, get your partner or family member to look for you, or use a mirror to help. If you notice something you haven't seen before, seek treatment.
Don't forget to wash your feet thoroughly, especially in between toes because that's a common site for fungal growth.
Foot lotion is also recommended daily, especially for older people who live in a dry part of the country. Massage lotion on your feet for 30 seconds to help circulation flow and make the skin extra soft and supple.