Even though they are often overlooked, maintaining healthy feet allows us to do the things we love to do – go for walks with grandchildren, drive to the movies, go to the grocery store and more. By the age of 50, the average person will walk 75,000 miles! The foot is one of our most complicated body parts – home to 26 bones and 33 joints on each foot. Taking good care of our feet as we age allows us to continue to be as active as we want, with less pain.
Foot Changes with Age
As our bodies age, the tendons in our feet get tighter and the ligaments get looser – meaning that bones will start to shift around, which may cause pain and bony growths. Like the skin everywhere else on our bodies, the skin and nails on our feet loose elasticity and can become dry and brittle, which can lead to cuts, scrapes and blisters that can become infected. When you couple this with poor circulation – which lessens our healing ability – and loss of feeling in our feet (neuropathy), a small foot sore can grow into a larger infection. This can mean pain with every step, reduced mobility, sometimes even permanent disability.
Below are some tips for proper foot care that can help avoid these problems:
Support Supple Skin
Keeping your feet clean and well-moisturized will help prevent itchy, cracked heels. If ignored, those small cracks can turn into painful, open sores. Use a cream, balm or lotion after your shower or bath to keep your skin from drying out. Two words of warning – make sure to rub in the lotion completely so your feet aren’t greasy (which can lead to falls), and don’t use lotion between your toes (which can lead to fungal infections).
Fight Fungal Infections
While it’s important to keep your feet moisturized, you don’t want them to be too moist. The consistent presence of moisture creates the perfect environment for a fungal infection. Make sure your feet are completely dry after your shower before putting on your socks and shoes. Make sure you’re choosing breathable, moisture-wicking socks. Choose acrylic blends over 100% cotton – cotton will hold in moisture. Change your socks or stockings often during the day if your feet tend to sweat a lot.
Select Smart Footwear
Avoid going barefoot whenever possible. Reduced feeling in our feet associated with age means we’re more likely to step on something sharp and not feel it. It’s also time to give up unsupportive footwear like flip-flops, slippers, and open back shoes – these can increase your risk of tripping and falling. You might be surprised to find that you need to purchase larger shoes. In fact, three out of four people older than 65 are wearing shoes that are too small. Have a salesperson measure your feet, you may find that your regular shoe size has gone up due to how your bones and ligaments have shifted.
Trim Those Toenails
Overgrown toenails can interfere with stable walking or even become painfully ingrown. If it’s hard to bend over and reach your feet, enlist the help of a family member or caregiver to keep your toenails trimmed straight across the toe. Click here for more tips on a safe at-home pedicure. If your nails are extra thick, you may need to enlist the help of a podiatrist or visiting nurse. Avoid the nail salon – workers there often don’t have the special training to deal with common foot problems, and infections are common from these facilities.
Wiggle Those Piggies
Poor circulation can contribute to foot pain, so be sure to keep the blood flowing to your feet. Avoid crossing your legs for an extended length of time. Elevate your feet and ankles whenever possible. And take frequent breaks throughout the day to stretch. (Set an alarm reminder on your phone if you need to!) Wiggling your toes and rolling your ankles up and down, in and out, not only feels good and also keeps your joints limber!
Enlist an Expert
Make it a habit to see a podiatrist once a year in order to prevent small problems from developing into bigger issues. A home health caregiver can also help with regular foot hygiene and grooming, especially if you have a condition like diabetes or vascular disease.
With a little preventative care, your feet will keep you walking, jogging, swimming and dancing for longer!