Age and Your Feet

You may have heard the saying “Aging isn’t for the weak”.  Age can bring about wisdom and life experiences and wonderful memories; however, it can also come with all sorts of surprises when it comes to our health.  Some seriously irritating surprises!  But heel pain doesn’t have to be one of them.  As you age, you don’t have to ‘just deal with it’.  Read on to learn more about age and your feet. 

As we age, life’s forces take a toll on our bodies.  Heel pain can be one of these tolls we need to pay.  Think of your feet as cars.  The more mileage on them, the more wear and tear, and the more things that wear out and go wrong. It’s no surprise that the older we get, the less flexible our body tissue and joints become. Our feet have more than 30 joints subject to degeneration over time.

Factors causing heel pain in the elderly and older adults

There are a great many factors that can cause older adults to be vulnerable to heel pain.  Below are a few specific ones:

Wider, flatter feet

The cumulative effects of gravity and weight-bearing activities after long term use can cause our feet to widen and flatten. This will make it difficult for the arch of your foot to distribute weight properly, leading to improper impact and in turn, strain and damage.

Fat pad atrophy

This is a situation where the fat pad located underneath your foot becomes thinner with age.  As the fat pad thins, these issues become more prominent.  Losing that cushioning causes the skin on your foot to hover between a rock and a hard place, which can be very painful.

Obesity

Carrying excess weight as you age adds significantly more force with each step. That weight can seriously impact the mechanics of your gait.  It will place additional strain on your feet and your ankles.  Commonly, the swelling that comes along with being overweight can cause your toes to push up against your toenails leading to them becoming ingrown and very painful.  Obesity can also be a leading cause of fat pad atrophy.

Improper fitting footwear

Spending a lifetime wearing ill-fitting shoes can easily result in heel pain later in life. The most common form of heel pain that may develope from inadequate footwear is plantar fasciitis. Ill-fitting footwear will force your feet and toes into an unnatural position, which leads to discomfort and more severe problems down the line.

Medical conditions arising from older age

Degeneration over time leads to brittleness that includes straining and tearing.  Accidents, including falling, can be attributed to the loss of strength in muscles that support the heel and ankle.  Degenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s, arthritis, diabetes, and other neuropathic conditions erode tissues and nerves, making heels and feet vulnerable to pain.  Blood flow diminishes with age, which can lead to slower healing and a buildup of scar tissue.

Typical wear and tear

With simple wear and tear, our feet can start to hurt. Our skin produces less and less collagen which leads to dryness, cracking skin, and brittle nails.

How to care for your feet as you age

  1. Orthotic Inserts – It is imperative that you support your arch, reduce the factors causing strain on your fat pad, and distribute your weight evenly.  The best way to do this is to wear orthotic inserts in your shoes.  Orthotics will provide the proper support that you need to hold your feet, ankles, and your whole body in proper form. An orthotic will protect against many types of pain and discomfort and prevent these conditions from forming in the first place.
  2. Proper Fitting Footwear – Feet change in size and shape as we age, therefore if you have not had a proper shoe fitting in some time, you should!  Search for footwear that has a thick, supportive sole and does not rub anywhere on your foot as you move.
  3. Stretching – Stretching regularly will allow the tissues and ligaments in your feet to stay flexible and strong.  Massaging them along with stretching helps stimulate blood circulation and reduce pain.
  4. Inspect your feet and maintain any medications – This is self-explanatory.  As we age, we need to make sure that we address immediately any ensuing healthcare issues, lest they end up adding to foot pain.  Keep an eye on your feet and take action to keep them healthy!

Unfortunately, aging is inevitable, but heel pain doesn’t have to be.  Retaining mobility as we age is a very important factor in staying present in life.  If you take the steps now to protect and support your feet, it will pay off later.  Keep your body in the best shape possible by eating healthy foods, exercising, and visiting your podiatrist at regular intervals.  And if it hurts, get help soon!