Foot health and ageing
As our feet grow older, they naturally develop more problems. But painful and uncomfortable feet are not a natural part of growing old, or something to ‘put up with’.
A lot can be done to improve comfort, relieve pain and keep you on your feet for life.
Mirrors of health
The condition of our feet often provides early indications of conditions such as diabetes, arthritis, and circulatory disease. For this reason, the human foot is sometimes called the ‘mirror of health’.
Look out for signs such as dry skin, brittle nails, burning and tingling sensations, feelings of cold, numbness, and discoloration. Always seek the opinion of your podiatrist when any of these signs occur.
Foot problems can be prevented
As we age, our feet tend to spread and lose the fatty pads that cushion the bottom of the feet. If we are carrying extra weight, this can also affect the bone and ligament structure.
Many people, including older people, believe that it is normal for feet to hurt, and simply resign themselves to enduring foot problems which could be treated.
There are more than 300 different foot conditions. Some are inherited, but for older
people, most stem from the impact of years of use. However, even among people in their
retirement years, many foot problems can be treated successfully, and the pain of foot
Older people should have their feet measured for shoe sizes more frequently, rather than
presuming that their shoe sizes remain constant. Dry skin and brittle nails are other
conditions older people commonly face.
Taking good care of your foot health has many benefits including increasing your comfort,
limiting the possibility of additional medical problems, reducing your chance of
hospitalisation due to infection, and keeping you active and mobile.
Keep them walking
Mobility can be a problem for older people, yet with basic footcare, and the prompt
attention to any problems, getting around shouldn’t be restricted by painful feet.
Podiatrists provide services designed to help keep older people on their feet, serving in
hospitals, community health centres and nursing homes, as well as in private practice.
Foot health tips
- Properly fitted shoes are essential. The older you get, the more you need a shoe that
holds your foot firmly in place and gives adequate support. Sloppy old favourites should be
thrown out, as they can make you feel unstable.
- A shoe with a firm sole and soft upper is best for daily activities.
- Walking is good general exercise for most people’s feet.
- Pantyhose or stockings should be of the correct size and preferably free of seams.
- Except at the beach, avoid going barefoot, even in your own home.
- Do not wear tight garters as these can affect your circulation.
- Never cut corns and calluses with a razor, pocket knife, or other such instruments and
don’t use over-the-counter corn products as they may do more harm than good, unless
they have been recommended to you by your podiatrist.
- Bathe your feet daily in lukewarm (not hot) water, using a mild soap, preferably one
containing moisturisers, or use a moisturiser separately.
- Trim or file your toenails so they are slightly curved just short of the end of the toe.
- Inspect your feet every day, or have someone do this for you. If you notice any
redness, cracks in the skin, or sores, consult your podiatrist.
- Have your feet examined by a podiatrist at least once a year.
Keeping nails cut and under control will help keep you mobile. Yet a lot of elderly people
find cutting toenails a problem, due to poor eyesight or difficulties in bending down.
If you can cut them yourself, make sure you cut them so they are slightly curved just
short of the end of the toe, using a strong pair of nail clippers. After clipping, smooth nails
with a file or emery board, using downward strokes.
Your podiatrist will be able to cut even heavily overgrown or thick nails painlessly, and
advise on appropriate self-care.
Text reproduced with permission from the Australasian Podiatry Council