As seniors age into their 70s and 80s, foot pain is reported as a more and more common experience. According to the International Council on Active Aging, a whopping 87% of older adults reported having at least one foot problem.
Surprisingly, however, few seniors address this pain and other foot issues with their healthcare provider or caregivers. Good foot care can help boost balance and coordination, prevent falls and pain, reduce mobility issues, and keep you moving well into your Golden Years.
People with diabetes require acute vigilance with their own foot care, but the average senior over 65 should be just as ‘foot-aware.’ Don’t miss these 10 tips and best practices for senior foot health:
Cleanse Feet Daily: Wash your feet with lukewarm water and mild soap daily and inspect for dryness, rough patches, bruises or broken skin. When cutting toe nails, soak your feet first to make nails easier to manage, and make sure to cut straight across with good nail clippers, avoiding leaving sharp corners that can cause ingrown toenails.
Moisturise feet with a vitamin E-rich lotion or cream that penetrates the epidermis and provides long-lasting hydration to the skin, and only put socks on after feet are completely dry. This daily cleanse and inspection can alert you to potential underlying issues or problems with circulation, arthritis or diabetes that your physician may not know about yet.
Wear Proper Footwear: Did you know 3 out of 4 seniors wear shoes that are actually too small for them? Prioritise foot health by wearing clean, dry shoes that fit. Since feet can widen as you age, make sure to have your foot measured before buying new shoes. And forgo socks with thick seams that can cause irritation and blisters on your feet.
Because of years of wearing heels, women are 4 times as likely to experience foot pain and podiatric ailments in their old age – seniors should avoid heels altogether, or if necessary, stick with shoes that have less than a 1 inch heel and that don’t pinch the toes. Experiencing foot pain associated with plantar fasciitis? Talk with your podiatrist and choose insoles for plantar fasciitis that address your arch, gait, and relieve discomfort and pain you may have with standing or walking.
Monitor Foot Sores: If you spend a lot of time in bed or reclining in a chair, be extra mindful of developing pressure sores or ulcers on the heels of your feet. Pressure ulcers can present in the first stage as a simply reddened area on the heels of your feet. As the pressure builds up, however, skin can crack, break down down, and become infected.
Foot sores take longer to heal than skin breakdown on other parts of the body, making them even more hazardous than normal. People with diabetes should also be ultra cognizant of foot sores that occur as an effect of poor circulation and loss of feeling in the feet.
Address Foot Cramps: Experiencing severe muscle spasms and cramps? Talk to your healthcare provider about testing for low potassium, sodium and magnesium levels in your blood that can result in this type of pain. Incorporate mineral-rich foods like potatoes, acorn squash, bananas, avocados and dark leafy greens into your diet to up your vital mineral intake.
Foot movement is also key to preventing painful foot and toe cramps. Stretch the feet out regularly with recommended flexibility exercises from the American Orthopaedic Foot & Ankle Society including toe curls, sand walking, and golf ball rolls.
Visit a Toenail Clinic: Contact your local senior center to see if they offer a toenail care clinic. Foot clinics offer staff or volunteers who provide care for senior feet including soaking and massaging them, clipping and cleaning nails, and checking for issues that may need to be addressed by a physician. No foot clinic nearby? Set goals with caregivers, home health providers, or family members to help you inspect your feet regularly and keep their care on your health and wellness radar.
See a Podiatrist: Set an appointment with your healthcare provider (or a podiatrist if needed) to address more serious foot problems including bunions, calluses, hammertoes, corns, heel pain, arthritic affliction, ingrown toenails, athlete’s foot, or discolored and hard toenails. In addition to medicinal or surgical treatment, a physician can help you assess a home treatment plan to address your issues and help you heal.
Promote Blood Circulation: Keep blood pumping all the way through your feet by raising them up on a stool when sitting down, wiggling your toes and rolling or twirling your ankles. And stay as active as possible – walk regularly and exercise your feet and legs with low-impact exercises like yoga, swimming, bicycling, and dancing.
Maintain a Healthy Weight: Being overweight or obese can add stress and pressure to your feet, as well as shift your center of gravity forward, pulling on foot muscles and tendons to help you balance. Routine exercise and a healthy diet benefit your feet just as much as it does your heart and brain.
Keep Feet Warm & Dry: Fungi and bacteria thrive in warm, damp places. When caring for feet, make sure they are both clean and dry – especially between the toes; this helps prevent athlete’s foot as well as infections in cracked skin or open sores. Cold feet can also reduce circulation, so make sure to wear covered toe footwear in colder and wet weather.
Seek Mobility Assistance: Mobility aids and assistive devices that help you get around easier and stay active are important to maintaining strong and healthy feet. Difficulty walking or standing for extended periods of time, frequent falling, and fatigue when traveling by foot can all be indicators that extra support from a cane, walker, or other assistive device is needed. Talk to your healthcare provider about your mobility problems and avenues for addressing them.
With 33 joints, 26 bones and over 100 muscles, tendons, ligaments, and nerves, your feet are complex components of a body system that powers your every movement. Through daily walking, the average person will travel over 115,000 miles by foot in their lifetime – that’s a lot! Take care of your feet with constant love and attention, and they will take care of you.