When it comes to our health and wellbeing, our feet are often overlooked. They are trusty and usually reliable, but they are also overworked and mostly unattractive.
Unfortunately, as the human body ages, the feet can begin to encounter numerous problems. One in three people over the age of 65 has foot pain, stiffness or aching feet. The good news is that most of these issues are easily treatable, especially if you get on top of them early.
Here’s a look at some of the common foot problems people encounter as they age and the best way to go about treating them.
A bunion is a deformity of the base joint of the big toe. The deformity may cause the foot to rub on shoes and cause inflammation and pain. Bunions most commonly affect women; in fact, women are 10 times more likely to be affected by this problem than men.
In severe cases, bunions can require surgery to remove, but there are a few things to try before it reaches that stage.
The first thing is to change your footwear. Tight footwear only exacerbates the problem, and changing to a wider shoe may relieve the pain. Also, choose a shoe with a strong and supportive sole rather than flimsy soled shoes, which can add stress to the bunion joint and increase pain.
If changing footwear doesn’t help, you can consider anti-inflammatory medications like aspirin or ibuprofen, or purchase bunion pads or shields to reduce the pressure on the joint. Only if all of these measures fail should you consider surgical removal of the bunion.
Callouses or corns
Repeated pressure on some areas of the foot can cause the skin to die and form a hard, protective surface, referred to as a callous or corn. While they can occur in people of all ages, they are much more prevalent in people aged 65 and older.
Most callouses are relatively painless and will go away if you can address the pressure problems with better footwear, but corns can be painful and require treatment. Any over-the-counter wart medication can be used in the treatment of corns and will dissolve most of the protein that makes up the dead skin of the corn. This treatment is safe for most people, although it is not recommended for diabetics. In those cases, it may be best to consult a podiatrist.
This particularly nasty problem is when any of the middle toes (usually the first small toe) curls up instead of down, resulting in a permanently dislocated joint. It starts out as a mild deformity and gets progressively worse over time.
Like bunions, hammertoe is more prevalent in women than men due to wearing pointy, high-heeled shoes with little to no arch support.
Unfortunately, surgery is the only way to permanently straighten the toe, but if you catch the contraction early enough, you can do toe exercises to keep the toes supple and strengthen the muscles that move them, which can help stop the problem becoming serious.
Ingrown toenails and other nail issues
An ingrown toenail occurs when the edge of the nail, usually on the big toe, grows inside the surrounding skin. If left untreated it can cause infection and may need to be removed by a podiatrist. The best course of action is to treat the situation quickly. If you think you are developing an ingrown toenail, apply an antibiotic cream or ointment at the first sign of discomfort. This will minimise the risk of infection. If you have an ingrown toenail removed and you find it becomes a common occurrence, it may be worth changing your footwear.
Fungal infections are another major issue affecting the toenail region. These are easy to spot by the discolouration and thickening of the nail. There are a number of creams and ointments that can be purchased over the counter, but these have limited effectiveness due to the infection being underneath the nail. The best treatment is an orally taken anti-fungal medication, while work is progressing on laser treatments to solve the problem.