Healthy feet, healthy body

Created date

November 2nd, 2017
Image of two feet with ten toes.

Image of two feet with ten toes.

“Aging is a gradual process that affects all parts of our body, including our feet,” says Sophia Deben, M.D., a foot and ankle specialist at OrthoNOW, an orthopedic urgent care center in Doral, Fla. “A podiatrist can be a valuable member of your health care team.” 

Foot problems, minor and major

Seniors should see a podiatrist to catch small problems early. “Corns and callouses, which are not generally harmful, can cause pain or lead to wounds or infections, especially if your lack of sensation is diminished due to neuropathy,” says Jennifer VanDemark, a podiatrist at Maris Grove, an Erickson Living community in Glen Mills, Pa.

Age-related vision problems or arthritis may prevent you from taking care of your feet properly. “Most of my patients come in for routine foot care such as nail cutting and debridement of corns and callouses,” VanDemark says. “If a patient has diabetes, poor circulation, or other health issues, it is important to have a trained professional perform foot care since complications could arise easily,” VanDemark explains. 

“A small blister can become a severe infection that can often require a hospital stay for intravenous antibiotics and even surgery,” Deben says. “The ultimate consequence could be amputation of the foot or leg.”

Another small problem that can quickly balloon into a major issue is toenail fungus. “Toenail fungus is very common in seniors,” says Gregorio Caban, D.P.M., a foot and ankle specialist at OrthoNOW. “Years of trauma to the toenails makes them susceptible to fungal infections.”  

Although over-the-counter antifungal medicines are available, the American Podiatric Medical Association (APMA) says the advantages of professional care include faster resolution of the infection and less likelihood that it will recur. 

Foot care at home

Even if you see a podiatrist regularly, you need to properly tend to your feet at home. 

“Everyone should examine their feet daily,” VanDemark advises. “Look for cuts, bleeding, red areas, blisters, swelling, or any other abnormalities. Use a mirror to examine areas you can’t see well.” 

Wash and dry your feet daily—especially between your toes. “This is extremely important during the summer,” VanDemark says. “If your feet tend to sweat, use powder and change your socks more frequently.”   

On the other hand, too-dry skin makes your feet susceptible to cracks, infections, and other problems. “Rub lotion over the top of your legs and feet—but never between your toes—especially during winter,” VanDemark says. 

Your skin is more fragile with age and can burn easily. “Test water before you put your feet into it,” VanDemark says.  “Avoid heating pads or electric blankets because they could burn your feet without you being aware of it.”  

Never walk barefoot, even at home. Studies show that wearing shoes reduces your risk of falling elevenfold. “Shoes provide more stability and protect your feet if you step on something sharp or strike it against a hard surface,” VanDemark explains. “If you cannot wear shoes all the time at home, at least wear slippers.”

“Keep your feet moving,” VanDemark advises. “Besides walking and a healthy exercise regimen, wiggle your toes and move your ankles during the day. Don’t cross your legs for a long time, and if you are sitting for an extended period, elevate your feet.” 

These measures may help reduce swelling in your feet and ankles. In addition, compression stockings might help. They are very snug to keep blood from pooling in your lower legs and feet. Assistive devices can help you put them on, and some companies now sell medical-grade compression stockings with different colors and eye-catching designs—which makes them look more like regular stockings.  

Compression stockings are not appropriate for everyone, so talk to your podiatrist or primary doctor before you try them. 

Wearing proper footwear 

“The feet grow in length and width over time,” Deben says. “Those shoes we purchased years ago may not fit quite as well. Try on a bigger size at the shoe store. Continued wear of ill-fitted shoes can lead to blisters, hammer toes, bunions, and arthritic joints.”

Too-loose shoe, on the other hand, can cause your foot to move around and make your gait unsteady.  If you’re unsure about the fit of your shoes, your podiatrist can do measurements, evaluate problems, and recommend shoes or orthotics. 

The main message from the APMA is when it comes to your health, seeing your podiatrist is a high-value service. “Older patients should have their feet examined and monitored regularly,” VanDemark says.  “It is better to be safe than sorry.”