Foot care tips to keep you moving into your golden years

Monday, October 1, 2012
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Just a few decades ago, the phrase "granny shoes" implied a tragic lack of coolness and that the wearer had allowed comfort to trump style in their slow shuffle toward getting old.

Footwear is no longer dictated by age, but rather by the activity level and fashion sense of the wearer.

"If your feet are in decent condition you can probably wear pretty much anything you want, as long as you use good sense," says Dr. Zenon Duda of Cape Foot Clinic. "You can go in granny shoes, but if they're the wrong size, they're still going to hurt."

But like everything else about our bodies, our feet change with age. The steps we take to keep them healthy have to adjust accordingly.

"The big picture is that there is a whole series of combined changes in all of the different organ systems that ends up influencing how the foot is positioned, how it functions and how it feels," says Duda. When he examines a foot, he's actually looking at a few different body systems within the foot: The skin and the musculoskeletal, neurological and vascular systems. On top of that, you have genetics, says Duda. If your parents or grandparents had trouble with things like arthritis, flat feet or high arches, you're likely to encounter the same problems.

"The feet have smaller joints, and because they are small we ignore them and assume they're always going to do what they're supposed to do. That is not the case," says Duda. "(Feet are) very valuable and they get you around everywhere. They deserve the same respect and attention you give to other parts of the body."

To keep your feet healthy, know the conditions that can damage your feet, and follow these tips from Duda and the American Podiatric Medical Association:

Skin: As babies, our feet are soft and pudgy, but as we enter our 40s and 50s, we'll start to see wrinkles, dry skin and cracked heels, says Duda. As we get older, collagen dries out and doesn't support the skin as well as it used to; as body fat thins out, we'll have less padding on our feet. Circulation problems, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, smoking and too much drinking all end up affecting the skin, says Duda. The results may include pressure and impact problems, a breakdown of the skin, ulcerations and blisters.

Veins: Hardened and constricted arteries, as well as plaque buildup, affect how blood flows in and out of the feet, says Duda. When the veins don't work as well, fluid tends to collect in the lower extremities, causing swollen, tender feet and ankles, especially in the morning. You may also notice varicose veins, spider veins and bluish skin on your lower legs and feet, especially around the ankles. Duda recommends lace-up shoes, which you can tie up snug to your feet and adjust as necessary, without pinching or putting pressure on veins in the feet.

Arthritis: The feet are more susceptible to this painful inflammation of the cartilage and lining of the joints. Each foot has 33 joints, all of which help bear the weight of the entire body every day. Arthritic feet can lead to a loss of mobility if the condition is not diagnosed and treated. See a doctor if you have swelling, redness, heat, loss of mobility, recurring pain or tenderness in any joint; stiffness in the early morning or skin changes such as rashes or growths.

Diabetes: Foot-related complications are common among people with diabetes. Proper diet, exercise, medical care and careful home management can prevent the most serious complications of the disease, including amputation. In addition to regular checkups with their podiatrist, people with diabetes can reduce their risk of complications with basic foot care. Inspect your feet daily, choose thick, soft socks without seams, exercise daily, avoid going barefoot, have new shoes properly measured and fitted and see a podiatrist for treatment of calluses, corns or warts, rather than trying to treat them yourself.

High blood pressure: Hypertension can be related to a buildup of plaque in the blood vessels, a condition which can lead to decreased circulation in the legs and feet. Poor circulation can lead to the development of open wounds on the skin. Symptoms of poor circulation in the feet and legs include cramping, sores that take a long time to heal, changes in the color or temperature of the feet and loss of hair on the feet and legs.

Heel pain: One of the most common foot complaints, heel pain can be caused by walking gait abnormalities, an injury, wearing poorly constructed footwear over the long term or being overweight. Heel pain is often very treatable; it may include anti-inflammatory medication, exercise and shoe recommendations, taping or strapping, or use of shoe inserts or orthotic devices. To minimize risks of developing heel pain, wear shoes that fit well and have shock-absorbent soles, rigid shanks and supportive heel counters. Wear the proper type of shoe for the activity you'll be doing. Warm up before exercising, and pace yourself while participating in athletic activities.

ARA Content contributed to this report.

Rules of foot

A few more "rules of foot" from Duda: Be sure to keep your feet clean, especially between the toes, keep your feet warm in the winter and wear shoes with thick soles.

"I like to see shoes with thicker soles. We all walk on concrete, so that's a valuable asset of a shoe. It should roughly follow the contour of your foot," says Duda. "Go to a store where they know what they're doing ... a store that still fits people properly and gives the attention they need."

In addition to bodily exercise, Duda recommends paying special attention to your feet: On a regular basis, grasp your feet one by one, then gently stretch and put the joints through a full range of motion.

If you've had persistent foot pain for more than five days, have your doctor check it out, says Duda. Also watch for redness, discoloration, pain when putting weight on a foot, and any inability to wear shoes comfortably or participate in physical activities.

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