We may not always consider the health of our feet, but most of us will spend a considerable amount of time using them. The average adult can expect to walk about 75,000 miles in his or her lifetime, which is why proper foot care – and choosing the right footwear – is so important.
As people age, there are numerous obstacles that can interfere with regular foot maintenance, such as the loss of sight, the inability to bend over or increased weakness in the hands.
Dr. Alan Lechan, a podiatrist who sees patients at the region’s councils on aging, said proper care can help you avoid major foot problems that can lead to falls. Senior Scope spoke with Dr. Lechan about some of the concerns he sees in the community and tips to keep you moving forward.
Finding the Right Fit
Style or comfort may be top of mind when searching for a new pair of kicks, but ensuring your shoes fit properly should be your main goal.
Dr. Lechan said your shoes should be flexible in the toe, with a rigid heel counter, which is the part that wraps around the back of your foot. If the heel counter isn’t sturdy, and your heel doesn’t have a solid fit, then you’re essentially wearing a slipper.
If the shoe is so loose that the heel moves up and down while you’re walking, it can cause irritation. Lechan said wide-width shoes, in particular, can end up being too big, giving your heel extra space to wiggle.
While you want a tighter fit around the heel, you’ll also want to ensure there’s enough room for your toes. This is because, when you’re walking, your foot stretches out slightly and slides forward. Lechan said about a thumb’s width of extra room should be adequate.
Calluses & Corns
Too much irritation over a long period of time can lead to calluses, which are layers of dead skin.
“The problem develops if you have a shoe that’s rubbing, you’ll get a callus in that area, which initially helps. It toughens the skin,” Lechan explained. “But after a while, it builds up, and it’s like having a stone in that area, and it will hurt.”
Sometimes, if the callus presses against the skin for an extended period of time, the blood can’t circulate underneath, and the skin dies, potentially leading to a pressure ulcer.
“Generally what the podiatrist will do is cut off the callus, which doesn’t hurt because it’s just layers of dead skin, and then try to come up with some ways to decrease the friction or pressure,” said Lechan. “It could be as simple as not wearing a particular pair of shoes anymore.”
Nails naturally thicken as we age, and they can also thicken as a result of trauma – like dropping something heavy on your foot. Another common source of nail thickening is a fungal infection.
When fungus gets in and under the nail, it’s difficult to treat.
“Why do people get it? I look at it as an immunity issue,” Lechan said. “The fungus is everywhere. Of course, it’s in greater concentration in places like public baths.”
There are a range of over-the-counter remedies, some of which may benefit the patient. But, as a general rule, he said their efficacy is limited.
Taking an oral medication will likely clear up the fungus, but the medication could impact your liver. That would be a conversation for you and your doctor.
“A podiatrist can help you keep the nail trimmed down. If it’s a thick nail, it might require some grinding,” he said. “Generally, it’s not a problem unless it’s causing ingrown nails.”
When to See a Podiatrist
If you have an injury, are experiencing persistent pain, or if you have calluses or issues with your toenails that you’ve tried to treat yourself, you should consider seeing a podiatrist.
A podiatrist can help evaluate your situation, provide care and direct your treatment. Call your local council on aging to learn about what podiatry services are available.