“When our feet hurt, we hurt all over.” – Socrates
Even Socrates, the father of western philosophy who spent his days espousing the virtue of knowledge, took the time to comment on sore feet. Foot pain affects about one in four older adults, and it can become chronic and debilitating. By the time we reach age 80, the average person has walked over 100,000 miles, so it’s no surprise that these hard-working, mechanical marvels start to wear and tear over time. And while some age-related changes to your feet are inevitable, there are some steps you can take to maintain healthy, happy feet.
Our feet walk us through life one step at a time, supporting our body weight on 28 bones, 33 joints and over a hundred muscles, ligaments, and tendons. Feet are a vital part of overall health – they keep you grounded, balanced, upright and, of course, move you from one place to the next. Built tough, the skin on the soles of the feet is thicker than that on other parts of the body to meet the constant demands of weight bearing. There are also highly specialized fat pads that cushion the feet, acting like your very own insoles.
When you walk, the biomechanics of the foot provide shock absorption – the heel hits the ground first, then you roll onto the ball of your foot, and push off on your toes. The arches act like springs, flexing the foot and propelling the body forward. We do this about 8,000 times a day without even thinking about it.
As we get older, everyone’s feet start to experience normal age-related declines. Arches lose some of their elasticity, the skin is more prone to dryness, joints stiffen and those fat pads start to thin so you don’t have that natural cushion anymore. Your shoe size may even go up as the ligaments and tendons stretch out. All this can result in wider, flatter feet.
A study in the Gerontology Journal found that age-related changes in feet can contribute to a decreased range of motion, less efficient propulsion and reduced muscle strength. The journal also affirms that the older you are the more likely it is that you will experience some kind of foot pain. Foot pain can make walking extremely difficult, curtailing even the most basic activities of daily living. It can also cause problems with balance and is an independent risk factor for falls.
Obesity is a known risk factor for foot pain, and women are more likely to have sore feet than men. Years of wearing ill-fitting shoes can cause corns, calluses, bunions and toe deformities. So while those fabulous high heels you loved to wear looked good, your feet paid the ultimate price.
Certain medical conditions like arthritis, gout and diabetes can also cause foot pain. Poor circulation from vein disease could prevent cuts and sores from healing as well, opening the door to possible infection. Some older adults can no longer reach their feet as mobility and manual dexterity decline, so routine foot care like cutting toenails becomes very difficult. Toenail hygiene is an important part of overall foot health.
So how do you maintain happy, healthy feet as you age? Here are some steps in the right direction:
- Moisturize daily to keep skin from drying and cracking. Inspect your feet often to check for cuts and sores or any changes to the skin. Consult a healthcare professional if you notice any sores or discolorations that don’t go away.
- Keep your toenails trimmed and be sure to clean underneath your nails very carefully. If you are having difficulty reaching your feet, you may need to visit a foot care clinic. The Winnipeg Regional Health Authority provides a list of available foot care services on their website: http://www.wrha.mb.ca/healthinfo/a-z/diabetes/directory-foot-care-nursing-services.php
- Maintain a healthy weight – carrying around extra weight can put even more pressure on your already overworked feet.
- Wear comfortable, properly sized shoes and/or get fitted for orthotics. An orthotic is a custom foot insert placed inside the shoe. A study from The College of Science, Health and Engineering in Australia found that orthotics were effective in reducing pressure from painful regions of the foot. Their study also showed that orthotics are beneficial for balance.
- Do some simple foot exercises once a day to maintain strength and flexibility. As an example, try picking up a crumpled towel with your toes. For more exercises, visit the government of Canada’s website, Putting Your Best Foot Forward – A Guide to Foot Care: http://www.veterans.gc.ca/eng/services/health/promotion/footcare
- See a healthcare professional or a podiatrist if you have recurring foot pain.
Krystal Simpson is a communications officer with Victoria Lifeline. This article is meant to be informational and should not replace the advice of a healthcare professional or physician.