What are Common Foot Problems in Older Adults?
Feb 05, 2024
The CDC reports that each year, around 25% of older adults in the US fall. Health issues that affect the feet can increase the chances of falling and sustaining injuries. That means that as you age, it is very important to prevent or treat foot problems.
Plus, healthy feet and legs allow you to walk around, making it easier to stay mobile and independent. You also can exercise more easily on healthy feet, maintaining your overall wellness.
Let’s break down the most common foot problems found in elderly folks and how they can be properly treated.
Common Foot Problems in the Elderly
Some common foot problems in older adults include arthritis, peripheral neuropathy, plantar fasciitis, and others. Let’s learn a bit about each of these.
Arthritis & Joint Pain
According to the CDC, arthritis affects 47% of the over-65 age bracket. If you develop arthritis in your feet or ankles, you may experience swelling and joint pain. Often, the pain is worse when you wake up.
Preventing injury, keeping a healthy weight, and protecting your joints all can help prevent arthritis. If you do get arthritis, try to eat an anti-inflammatory diet. Manage the condition using medications and physical therapy (PT).
Patients experiencing heel pain may have plantar fasciitis. Like arthritis, this is an inflammatory condition, but it specifically affects the plantar fascia. You might develop plantar fasciitis if you are wearing the wrong shoes, or doing more walking or running than you are used to. The shape of your feet, how much weight you are carrying, and the type of surface you are traversing can all be risk factors as well. To prevent this condition, try increasing activity levels gradually and wearing suitable shoes.
Unlike arthritis, however, plantar fasciitis can be resolved with fast and appropriate treatment. As explained by Mayo Clinic, you can try rest, icing, stretching, PT, medication, shock wave therapy, or other treatments or changes to your lifestyle your doctor recommends. Commonly, lifestyle adjustments include wearing in-shoe heel cushioning and arch supports.
Sometimes, peripheral nerves are damaged, which results in the condition called peripheral neuropathy. You can experience peripheral neuropathy in your hands or feet. If you have this kind of nerve damage, you could experience pain, tingling, prickling, numbness, coordination issues, muscle weakness, or other symptoms.
Peripheral neuropathy can result from injuries, infections, autoimmune diseases, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and certain other conditions. It can also be caused by low levels of B vitamins, vitamin E or copper, or from taking certain medications or excessive alcohol intake.
A healthy diet and plenty of exercise can help prevent peripheral neuropathy, as can avoiding excessive alcohol. If you do get peripheral neuropathy, medications, PT, and a few other therapies may be recommended by your doctor.
With this condition, your toes bend inward and get stiff, resembling claws. It affects the last two joints of the toe. Our toes are not meant to do that as we walk, which can lead to pain. You might be especially susceptible to forming claw toes if you have high arches or walk with your feet rotating inward. Genetic factors are also involved.
Prevent claw toes by wearing shoes that support your arches and have plenty of room in the toe boxes. Avoid wearing heels. Exercise your toes, and file down calluses or corns regularly with a pumice stone.
See a doctor right away if you suspect you are developing claw toes. Fast intervention is needed to avoid them becoming stuck that way. Just switching to better shoes and doing some simple exercises may help you prevent progression, but surgeries are also available.
A common subset of arthritis is called “gout.” If you have gout, monosodium urate crystals get deposited into your joints, causing attacks of pain. American Family Physician reports that 56% to 78% of patients experience gout in the first metatarsophalangeal joint (toe knuckles).
To prevent gout attacks, you can try to keep your weight healthy, and avoid drinking excessively. Foods that contain purines can also trigger gout attacks; red meat and organ meat are both examples. Certain medications may worsen gout, so talk to your doctor about whether you should switch anything you are taking. Anti-inflammatory medications can help you manage the pain.
Bunions and Hammertoes
Bunions and hammertoes are not the same thing. But it is common for them to be co-occurring.
A misaligned metatarsophalangeal joint can lead you to develop a bump on the side of your foot at the base of your big toe called a “bunion.”
Hammertoe is a condition that affects the middle joint of the second, third or fourth toe, producing an unnatural bend and stiffness.
Genetic factors, health conditions, injuries or wearing shoes that do not fit properly can all contribute to hammertoes and bunions. So, try to wear shoes that fit comfortably, and protect joint alignment to prevent these issues.
Does the ball of your foot have a pain that feels burning or sharp? Do you have a similar burning sensation in some of your toes, or maybe numbness or stinging? These are possible symptoms of a condition called Morton’s neuroma. This type of neuroma occurs when one of your toe nerves receives too much pressure due to thickening of tissue around it.
Possible causes of Morton’s neuroma include an injury or anything else that might compress the nerve. Avoiding injuring your feet is probably the best way to prevent Morton’s neuroma. If you already have the condition, try wearing wide shoes, and avoid high heels. Shoe inserts can help too.
Some patients may benefit from steroid injections or alternative therapies. Be aware, however, that alternative therapies are not-well backed at this time.
This condition is inflammation of the Achilles tendon. You might develop it if you abruptly increase how long or hard you are jogging or running. It is a condition that is common in active people of all ages.
You can usually recover from Achilles tendon pretty quickly with rest, ice, and other conservative measures. Rarely, you may require surgery.
To prevent Achilles tendon in the future, wear suitable shoes, and work out your calf muscles to increase their strength and flexibility. If you want to pick up the intensity of your runs, do so gradually. Take a gradual approach to increasing the duration as well.
This is another common condition affecting people of all ages. If your skin is dry, the weather is cold, you stand a lot, or you take a hot shower, these all can cause cracked heels. Some health conditions are also associated with them.
Regular foot washing, quality footwear, and moisturizer may all help you to prevent cracked heels. Try to avoid exposing your feet to conditions that are very hot or cold.
Diabetes Related Issues
If you have diabetes, you could develop diabetic neuropathy in your feet as well as reduced circulation. In some cases, more severe complications are possible, such as gangrene. According to an article in Diabetes Care, the lifetime risk of foot ulcer is 19% to 34%.
Treating the underlying diabetes is essential. You also need to keep a daily eye on your feet, and contact your provider if there are changes. Aside from that, simple measures like avoiding exposure of your feet to temperature extremes, treating calluses, and washing your feet daily can help.
Foot Care for Aging Feet
You probably noticed some common threads in the prevention tips for the health conditions above. These are also just smart recommendations to follow for all seniors who want to take care of their feet:
- Wear comfortable, supportive footwear (see the next section for more details).
- Exercise your feet and ankles.
- Wash your feet each day.
- Trim your toenails.
- Moisturize your feet.
- Make sure your socks are dry. Switch them out if you need to.
- Keep checking your feet regularly for changes. Consult a doctor if you have questions or concerns.
Shoes for Keeping Elderly Feet Moving
If you have read this far, you now know that one of the most effective things you can do to prevent common foot problems in seniors is to wear the right type of shoes. Senior footwear should be:
- Cushioned, including adequate support for high arches
- Easy to put on and take off
- Offer excellent traction
- Not high heels
Cadense Original Adaptive Shoes for men and women are stylish, lightweight shoes that are easy to put on and remove. Along with plenty of support and cushioning, they feature a unique patented variable friction technology that makes it easy to “glide” over uneven surfaces even if you have trouble lifting your feet.
These shoes also don’t force you to choose between function and style; they are as beautiful to look at as they are comfortable to wear.
Frequently Asked Questions
To finish up our post about common foot problems in older adults, let’s answer some frequently asked questions.
Why do your toes curl up as you age?
This curling of the toes when aging may be the result of a couple of conditions: claw toes or hammer toes. Visit a doctor to get a correct diagnosis so you can determine an appropriate way to treat your condition.
How should you take care of your feet as you age?
Use good hygiene and wear appropriate footwear. Eat a healthy diet, get plenty of rest, and observe a healthy lifestyle overall. Regularly see your doctor if you notice any new issues with your feet, or changes in existing conditions.
What causes the loss of fat pads on feet?
Some risk factors for fat pad atrophy include age and genetics. But it can also develop as a complication of certain health conditions, such as diabetes or arthritis. Corticosteroid use over an extended period of time, injury, or tight-fitting shoes may contribute to it as well.
Why do feet flatten with age?
Weakening tendons can cause the arches in your feet to get shallower, resulting in flatter feet as you get older.