By the time we reach age 50, experts say our feet have walked about 75,000 miles —that’s more than three times around the earth. If you’re runners like I am, some of those miles have been on hard surfaces.
And for the sake of style, I wore pointy high-heeled shoes to the office everyday. That’s lot of foot torture, say podiatrists and orthopedic surgeons who deal with women’s foot problems ranging from aching heel pain and bunions to hammer toes and infections.
By the time we reach 50, even if we are healthy and are not over-weight, our feet may begin to complain. If in addition to aging issues, we also may face challenges from chronic conditions such as diabetes or obesity, then our feet (and knees) can give us real trouble.
In my circle of 60-something friends, our feet are a regular topic of conversation. Two of us have are recovering from recent foot surgery to alleviate pain.
The good news is that active older women are seeking treatment before the pain causes them to lose mobility. And new technologies are allowing faster recovery from foot surgery and other treatments.
“My bunion was making it painful to walk,” said 67-year-old Susan J., a friend of mine. “I’ve had the surgery and in two months I expect to be back to my routine.” That routine includes traveling with her husband and serious gardening around her expansive yard.
Dr. Jay Crary, an orthopedic surgeon at Rebound in Vancouver, Wash. thinks it’s great that baby boomers generally are remaining active as we age.
“But they have to accept that bodies change as we get older,” said Crary, who does about 400 surgeries a year. “Maybe you could run four miles every day at age 35. At 55 your soft tissue is less elastic, tendons can tear.”
This week, I had my feet measured by a professional at a shoe store geared to older women. Surprise, my feet are a size larger than they were 10 years ago. For the first time in my life, I invested more than $100 in a new pair of running shoes — offering extra arch support and a wider design. I’m hoping the foot pain in the ball of my right foot big toe joint eases up and the heel pain in my left foot subsides. No way am I cutting back on the workout.
In addition to proper foot wear, Dr. Crary recommends that his older patients adjust their exercise routine to include biking or other cross-training workouts to eliminate foot stress.
“As we age, we may need to get the exercise without the high impact,” Crary said. “For many of my patients the easiest solution is to lose weight.”
Tips for Fixing Foot Pain
– Lose weight. Take the load off your feet (and knees).
– Check your foot size. As you age, your feet get longer and wider.
– Buy good shoes. Feet benefit from more protection and better fit.
– Adjust your workout routine to include lower-impact cardio-exercise.
– If you are experiencing foot pain, see a specialist right away.
– Keep your feet clean and dry. They will thank you.
Aging Foot Ailments
For those 50 and older, a host of foot conditions can trip us up and slow us down. Among those are bunions, Plantar fasciitis, hammer toe, foot infections and neuropathy related to diabetes. (See definitions below).
Dr. Chris Coop, a podiatrist in practice in Vancouver (Wash.) for 14 years, emphasizes the importance of preventive care for our feet.
“As we age our feet are changing, getting longer, flatter and wider,” Coop said. “Poor fitting footwear is the No. 1 thing I see contributing to foot pain.”
For example, Coop said, people who wear flip-flops to the mall for hours of shopping are more likely to experience these negative results. Poor-ftting high heels that crowd the toes, is another.
“Both men and women need to know that it’s OK to put some money into buying a pair of good quality shoes,” Coop said. “Men need to pay more attention to arch support. Women would do well to not be as vain about style and be a little more flexible in terms of comfort. A good first step is to have your feet measured and make sure that you’re wearing the correct size – sizing means everything.”
Vancouver podiatrist Dr. Chris Lamy recommends that baby boomers 50 and older pay attention to any foot pain and not delay diagnosis and treatment.
“It is much harder to deal with some of these conditions when you’re in your 70s than in your 50s or 60s,” said Lamy, who works at The Vancouver (Wash.) Clinic. “It can be hard to fix if you let it go.”
Women vs. Men
Women tend to have more foot problems than men for several reasons, the greatest being that they buy shoes for style, not comfort. In addition, women are more likely to develop certain conditions, such as bunions, which may be inherited.
Lamy encourages his patients to visit shoe stores that specialize in proper fit where staff accurately measure feet and recommend proper size and fit.
“As we age our feet benefit from more protection,” he said. “Style-conscious women can do their feet a favor by wearing good shoes at least part of the time and their stylish (but uncomfortable) shoes less often.”
According to the American Podiatric Medical Association, 77 percent of all adults said they had experienced a foot ailment. The number may be higher for women who more often lose elasticity in their foot tendons and ligaments as they age.
Dr. Nancy Kaplan, a podiatrist who works at Sutter Regional Medical Foundation, in Fairfield, Calif. said those over 50 must realize that they have to shift their shoe wear.
“I tell them that it’s OK to spend $100 or $150 on a pair of good shoes,” Kaplan said. “Our feet get tired. We never used to live this long or walk this many miles on concrete.”
With more baby boomers aging into their 60s every year, the world has never seen such a high population of seniors, Kaplan noted.
“That’s a lot of aching feet,” she said. “We’re going to see more and more medical techniques and treatments for feet revolving around that.”
Foot Ailments to Guard Against
– Plantar fasciitis – Painful inflammation of the connective tissue on the sole of the foot.
– Arthritis in the big toe joint – Painful, achy condition.
– Bunion – Foot deformity caused by an enlargement of the bone and tissue around the joint of the big toe.
– Diabetic foot infection – A complication from numbness and/or poor circulation.
– Diabetic neuropathy – Burning pain in the foot resulting from diabetic condition.
– Hammer toe – A deformity where one or more small toes buckle or bend-under out of their normal position.
– Toe nail fungus – One in five Americans has fungus under the toe nail that causes discoloration and thickening of the nails. Can be a problem and rarely cured.
– Athlete’s Foot – Common foot infection that creates itching, scaling and red skin.
Dr. Crary said retailers already are catching the baby boomer wave and designing “nicer looking” shoes for seniors. The first step is getting your feet measured by a professional for proper fit.
All foot specialists emphasized the importance of taking your feet seriously, especially if you’re experiencing pain. With 26 bones and 33 joints, a foot is a complex part of the human anatomy and deserves our admiration and respect.
“Just keeping your feet clean and dry is an important first step in foot care,” said Vancouver’s Dr. Coop. “Letting the water run over your feet while you’re in the shower is not enough.”
Helpful Foot Web sites
American Podiatric Medical Association – http://www.apma.org
American Diabetes Association: Foot Complications – http://diabetes.org
18 Things Your Feet say about Your Health – http://health.yahoo.net
How to Self Examine Your Feet – www.gavilanfootcare.com
Top 10 Foot Problems & Treatments – http://aestheticsinpodiatry.com
Podiatrist: A doctor of podiatric medicine (DPM) is qualified to diagnose and treat conditions affecting the foot, ankle, and related structures of the leg. Podiatrists receive medical education and training comparable to medical doctors, including four years of graduate education at one of nine podiatric medical colleges and two or three years of hospital-based residency training.
Orthopedic Surgeon: A medical doctor specializing in orthopedics, a branch of surgery concerned with conditions involving the musculoskeletal system including feet. Orthopedic surgeons complete four years of medical school then five years of residency training in orthopedic surgery.
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