How to Take Care of Your Feet As You Age

March 19, 2019

"Let's take a look at what you can do to take care of your aging feet and look at practical measures to take care of your foot pain... and maybe even avoid it."

We only have one pair of feet for life, so it’s important to take good care of them!

Foot pain can be debilitating, and can lead to issues with walking and exercising, which are important parts of health and wellbeing as we age. 

In today's live with Dr. Nancy Lin, PhD in holistic health and nutrition, learn what you can do take care of your aging feet so you can stay active and pain-free for life
!

Video Highlights
  • 00:56: We put much more pressure than we realize on our feet
  • 01:30: Foot pain affects one out of four adults over the age of 40
  • 02:35: Why so many people experience foot pain, and what it results in
  • 06:12: Major warning signs & foot problems to be aware of
  • 06:30: Cracked, dry skin
  • 07:39: Fallen arches
  • 08:21: Flat feet
  • 09:00: Toenail changes
  • 10:05: Hammertoe
  • 11:01: Edema
  • 11:58: Neuropathy
  • 13:14: How to avoid or alleviate foot pain: Tip 1 - exercise
  • 13:44: Tip 2 - general foot care and protection
  • 15:26: Tip 3 - exercises for feet and toes (demonstration)
  • 20:07: The strassburg sock
  • 23:39: Footwear that fits and provides adequate support
  • 24:33: Anti-inflammatory diet, lifestyle, and supplementation

Our poor, neglected feet

It's spring! That means we're on our way into Summer sandals season! But that means this is the time we start paying more attention to how our feet look. Most of us give our feet less TLC than we'd like to admit. And meanwhile when we jog, we pound our feet on the pavement, placing 3 to 4 times our body weight on them!

Not only that, we subject them to tight or poorly fitting shoes or unsteady heels. With all the stresses and strains the human foot has, with its 26 bones and 33 joints, and all its ligaments and tendons and muscles, the feet really take a pounding. The results of all that strain show up more and more as we age. 

Aching feet are reported to affect one out of four adults over the age of 40, and 2/3 of them claim the pain is debilitating at times! 

Beyond the physical discomfort, foot pain can be detrimental to your health in other ways. With chronic foot pain, you become less active in order to avoid the pain! This means you're not moving your body and exercising, and of course inactivity is fuel for chronic inflammation in the body.

So why do so many people experience foot pain?

The wear and tear of daily living, walking on hard pavement, playing sports... these all contribute to the wear and tear on feet and ankles and as we get older, the muscles and tendons in our feet lose elasticity which contributes to foot pain.

Then there are lifestyle factors such as unhealthy diets, rich in inflammation causing foods: bad fats, fried foods, sweets, alcohols... these all accelerate the breakdown of the tiny bones, muscles, and ligaments in our feet. Once your feet lose their form, strength, and flexibility, then your balance goes. In fact, it's been reported that foot pain is associated with an average of 60% increased risk of re-occurring falls in older adults. 

But that may not be the worst of it! It's also reported that foot pain is the cause of many hip and knee replacements. Foot pain leads to an uneven gait, which places strain and wear and tear on your hips, knees, and other parts of your lower extremities. This degradation augments the pain, causes bones to rub together, and creates the need for repair or replacement.

Orthopedic surgeons, and chiropractors who deal with back pain daily, recognize that unstable or weakened feet, or even favoring one foot over the other, all lead to excess stress and strain on the spine and back muscles. This can inflame the back muscles and lead to dependence on pain killers.

So what can we do to prevent all this? Keep reading for more tips, but first let's look at a few major warning signs to be aware of.

Cracked, Dry Skin

The gradual depletion of collagen in your skin can lead to the painful and unsightly formation of cracked heels and callouses. A daily application of moisturizer on the heel to help heal and prevent cracking and infection can help. A foot massage also makes it much better! Try putting coconut oil on your heels at night, then putting socks on over it before going to sleep. You can also use a callous remover or sand your heels before applying.

Fallen Arches

Fallen arches, is a condition in which the foot becomes flat. As you age, connective tissues, ligaments and muscles begin to thin out, which reduces the height of your arch. This can lead to hip, knee, and lower back pain. If you don't do anything about it, the extra wear and tear on your hips can lead to surgery, and it can be very painful. 

Flat Feet

The loss of the fat pad on the bottom of your feet can lead to flat feet. Less padding there also means less cushioning against the impact of walking or running, and it can lead to ankle pain.

Toe and Nail Changes

Toenails can become thicker and more brittle as you age, making them more difficult to cut and maintain. One reason for this is that nails start growing more slowly, as both male hormones (testosterone) and female hormones (estrogen), which stimulate the production of keratin, decline with age. Other causes include hypothyroidism, and inadequate circulation due to Peripheral Artery Disease. Fungal infections can also cause the toenails to become brittle and discolored.

Hammertoe

This is an abnormal bend in the joint of one or more toes. Hammertoes are prone to callouses, corns, and bunyans, which all cause joint stiffness, discomfort, and swelling. This condition is permanent without surgery, which is used to align the toe joints. In this case, you may want to see a podiatrist about the best solutions and shoes to avoid discomfort.

Edema

One of the most common foot and ankle symptoms doctors see, is Edema, which is the medical term for swelling. It is commonly associated with poor circulation, which then leads to a pooling or build-up of fluid in the ankles and feet. This can be associated with blood sugar management, diabetes, and plaque build-up in the arteries, veins, and capillaries. Vitamin D deficiency has also been strongly linked with this build-up. 

Neuropathy

The aging feet is also subject to tingling and numbness from reduced blood flow to the feet. It's usually associated with diabetes, called diabetic neuropathy. A telltale sign of this condition is a slowing the speed at which scrapes or cuts heal. Neuropathy can feel like numbness, burning, or pins and needles and can be very debilitating.

How can we reduce and prevent these undesirable affects?

Exercise

Keeping active and on the move will help keep your feet healthiest. Exercise tones up the muscles in your feet, and helps to strengthen the arches and stimulate blood circulation. If it's too painful to jog, try low impact cardio such as swimming, stationary bike, or walking on the beach.

General footcare and protection

Frequently trimming your toenails is important. You can even see a specialist and have it done for you if you aren't able to do it yourself. Keep your heels sanded down and your nails cared for. Excess length can crowd your toes in your shoes, and lead to fungus or infection. Toenails that have been cut back, can also become ingrown, so be careful when you trim. Since feet tend to dry out and lose natural oils as they age, try massaging and moisturizing your feet regularly with coconut oil, olive oil, or other moisturizers to keep them supple.

Exercises for your feet and toes

Watch the video to see Dr. Nancy demonstrate several exercises that you can implement to keep your feet healthy and strong.

Toegrips: One easy exercise is to drop a cloth or sock on the floor, grip it with your toes, and hold it in the air for 10 seconds before dropping.

Toe extensions: Wrap an elastic band around your toes, expand your toes, hold for a few seconds, then relax.

Calf raises: find a wall or counter to balance against, then raise yourself up on your toes, hold for 10 seconds, then relax. 

Calf stretches: Some people like the down dog yoga pose for this. You can also sit on the floor and use a towel around the balls of your feet, using it to pull your toes toward you. Hold for 10 seconds, then release, and repeat 5 times on each side. This will keep the achilles tendon and plantar fascitis from getting too tight.

The strassburg sock: This is essentially a very long sock, which you put your entire leg into, then use the attached extension to pull the toes toward your face. Fasten this with velcro and sleep this way to alleviate pressure off your achilles and stretch your calves. 

Golf ball massage: Step on a golf ball and roll it around to massage the small muscles in the bottom of your feet and alleviate pain.

Get the right footwear

The older you get, the more important it is to wear a shoe that is comfortable! Comfort is more important than style. Well-fitting shoes that hold your foot firmly in place and give you adequate support are important. Slippers can be great now and then, but they have no arch support and can leave your feet achey. As often as possible, make sure your shoes provide reliable support.

Diet and Lifestyle

As we've talked about, inflammation is at the root of many health conditions, including some of the ones we've talked about today. Follow the anti-inflammatory diet, and be consistent with daily supplementation to reduce the inflammatory load on your body. Together, Smarter Curcumin and Smarter Vitamin D are very helpful in keeping inflammation down and your feet and body as healthy as possible.

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