Do you ever think about your feet? Yes, I said your feet. They are marvels and actually do a lot more work than we given them credit for. Feet not only help us balance, but they obviously get us where we want to go. Have you ever had a time when you had a foot problem? Maybe a broken bone (There are many bones in our feet.)? Or plantar’s fasciitis? What about something as simple as a sprain? I can tell you for myself having had a few rounds of plantar fasciitis, that it is not only painful, but it limits your mobility. I know I have given more thought to my feet then and how much they actually do. In addition, I pray for a speedy recovery so I can be on my way again.
We know that proper fitting shoes, good posture, and keeping our feet clean promotes healthy feet. Did you know, though, that your feet change as you age? It is true. It’s not just that they get tired from all the mileage they have walked, but there are a few other ways they change. Below are the changes and what can be done to keep us on our toes! (I wish I could take credit for that little pun, but I didn’t come up with it. Still, I think it is clever.)
Your feet change shape. The last time you went to buy shoes did you notice you are no longer a size 6? You’ve graduated up a size? That is because the combined force of millions of steps over the years has made your feet longer and wider. In high school I was a size 5. Very cool! The only small part of my body. Now when I buy shoes I am moving over to los grandes sizes – 8 to 8 ½. Your arch may also flatten a bit. No more high arch as a ballet dancer. Now I look for shoes with a good arch support. Have you noticed more heel pain? Over time the fat layer on the bottom of your feet thins which translates to less natural padding and a heavier step.
Now what to do? We are back to a pair of comfortable, well-fitting shoes. Look for a pair that matches your foot shape. Avoid shoes with a pointed area for your toes and high heels. They may look nice, but they aren’t the kindest things for your feet. Don’t forget to try the shoes on in the store and walk around the store a bit to make sure they don’t slip or pinch. (And when trying on shoes, please take a pair of socks or nylon foot covers to use when trying on shoes. It is so gross so see people put their bare feet into the shoes, deciding they don’t want them, and put them back for some unsuspecting customer. Foot fungus, anyone? We’ll get to this a few paragraphs from now.)
Diabetics have to be especially careful of their feet. Even a blister can lead to unpleasant problems. Make sure your shoes are padded and comfortable. Not too tight, not too loose. Inspect your feet daily for any problems. Wear cotton socks (this is good advice to everyone) that will wick moisture away from your feet, such as when you have sweaty feet. Have your doctor examine your feet when you have appointments. Be sure to let your doctor know if you have developed any blisters or sores especially if they are open wounds.
The skin dries out. Your feet lose moisture as they age and this can lead to rough, dry, scaly patches to form on your lower legs and heels. On top of this some medications can have side effects that can affect your skin, and both issues together can lead to itching or burning. Heels seem to especially succumb to dryness.
Lotions, creams, and ointments can help rehydrate your skin. Also try to avoid using hot water and harsh soaps on your skin when you bathe. Use warm water and milder soaps. You can talk with your doctor to see if your medications can affect your skin.
Achy joints. As we age joints become sore, they creak, and don’t seem as flexible as they used to be. Why? Because nearly 50% of adults have arthritis in their feet or ankles by the time they are in their 60s or 70s. Of those 50% with arthritis there are many who do not have any symptoms. Unfortunately for those who do have symptoms the pain can become so bad that walking becomes impossible.
Seek treatment at the onset of stiffness, pain, or swelling in the joints. In rheumatoid arthritis the joints can be swollen and red. Gout is another disease that can cause swollen and painful joints, especially of the big toes. This is something to see the doctor for. Often it can be treated with diet changes alone and if needed, medication. Where I worked, many male Filipino employees had gout. Putting a shoe on and walking can be very painful. The flare ups seem to be related to diet.
Controlling your weight and exercising regularly can also prevent and treat arthritis.
Foot fungus, the bane of your feet’s existence. The moist, dark environment of your sneakers makes the perfect home for athlete’s foot and other types of fungus. Toenails can become fungal and the nails become very thick, dark, start to lift off the nail bed, and require a podiatrist to cut them. Slower circulation and weaker immune systems can make these infections more common in older adults. Signs of fungus include dry skin, blisters, redness, and peeling.
Try over-the-counter cream or powder, like clotrimazole or terbinafine. Talk with your doctor if you your symptoms don’t improve within a few weeks. To prevent infections, wash and dry your feet regularly. And a little common sense is in order. Change your shoes and socks often.
Bunions. I haven’t had this and I don’t want it either. I know people who have had painful bunions and walking is a trial. Years of stuffing your feet into too-small or pointy-toed shoes can contribute to bunions. (I am not sure why the female attorneys I have seen at the courthouse, and to be clear, no, I am not the defendant, love those high-heeled pointy-toed shoes. The halls in our county courthouse are long and uncarpeted. After walking a while, that has got to hurt. But, I digress once again.) Bunions are swollen, tender joints at the base of your big toe. Heredity may also play a role.
Help is available to prevent this before it becomes a surgical issue.Wearing wide shoes or adding inserts or padding can help relieve the pain and pressure. Over-the-counter pain medications can reduce the swelling. Something nonsteroidal like ibuprofen or naproxen. If bunions are impacting your life and mobility, talk with your doctor about surgery. This is usually an outpatient procedure, but healing time can be a few weeks long.
Remember our feet are our friends. Let’s take good care of them and enjoy a long pain free walk through life. It is easy to do and worth the effort. Your feet will thank you and be more willing to cart you around.
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