How ageing can affect your feet

Our feet, like every other part of our bodies, can develop more and more core conditions as we age. Here are some of the most common foot problems brought on by age, and what you can about them.

Our feet are under an enormous amount of stress for many hours each day, bearing our full weight and the all impacts of our movements.

It’s no surprise then, that the older we get and the longer we subject our feet to this pressure, the more problems with our feet are going to pop up.

Here are some of the most common foot problems you can develop as you age, and the best course of action for each.

Read: Your feet are your friends – here’s how to treat them properly

Cracked heels

As you get older, your skin produces less oil and elastin, which can leave it dry and less supple. Repeated pressure and stretching from regular walking causing this dry skin to split.

Left unattended, cracked heels can become extremely painful, and impede mobility. Being overweight makes the problem worse.

To prevent cracked heels from getting worse, special creams called keratolytics can help slough off the tough top layer of skin once splits appear. Then use a pumice stone to remove any dead skin and apply a moisturising lotion to your heels daily.

Fungal infections

Losing skin elasticity as you age is common, as is a gradual weakening of your immune system. These factors combined make fungal infections on feet more common in older people.

Most commonly, fungal infections begin on the soles of the feet. First symptoms usually include itchiness and scaly skin. If left untreated, the infection can spread to your toenails where it is much harder (and more painful) to remove.

Read: Study shows exercise is the key to reducing back pain

Treatment for foot fungus usually includes antifungal creams and sometimes even oral antifungal pills. Fungi are generally hard to kill, so use any medication prescribed for as long as directed.

Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis and is caused by a gradual wearing down of the protective cartilage between bones over time.

It’s estimated that by the time you reach 50, you will have walked more than 120,000km. That’s a lot of pressure on your feet over time, and as the cartilage breaks down bone begins to rub painfully against bone.

Most people who develop the condition are over 65 years old. Regular exercise, losing weight and maintaining a healthy posture at all times all contribute to preventing osteoarthritis in your feet.

Read: Mild painkillers match opioids for treating fracture pain: study

Gout

Gout is a type of arthritis in joints, most commonly in the feet – specifically the big toe joint. It can be extremely painful, and primarily affects middle-aged men.

The condition is caused by an excess of uric acid in the blood. This acid collects as hard crystals in your bloodstream, which then become lodged in joints, causing them to harden and swell.

Uric acid levels can build over time, which is why gout tends to be more common in middle age. Uric acid is introduced to your body through foods that are rich in purines, which your body then breaks down into uric acid.

These foods include red meat, organ meat, and some kinds of seafood, such as anchovies, sardines, mussels, scallops, trout, and tuna, so keep your intake of these to a minimum.

Excessive alcohol consumption can also introduce uric acid to your blood.

Bunions

Bunions are a painful and common foot condition that tends to worsen in severity with age. They are bony lumps that form on the main joint between the big toe and the foot. A bunion forms when the big toe angles outwards towards the smaller toes, pulling the joint out of line.

Bunions will continue to get worse the longer they are left untreated. Tight, narrow shoes will worsen a bunion, which is why the condition is more common in women.

Wearing wider and softer shoes is the first step to preventing bunions. But if one has already developed, treatment options usually include special cushioning pads, anti-inflammatory medication, cortisone injections or in extreme cases surgery.

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Written by Brad Lockyer

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