Your feet hurt. It’s painful to walk. You’ve started limping. Your shoes don’t seem to fit right any more.
Your feet can give you problems at any time of life, but it’s especially an issue as we age.
Dr. William Montross, a podiatric surgery specialist with UCHealth Podiatry Clinic – Printers Park, has seen it all in his 25 years as a podiatrist. But he especially sees escalating issues in older patients.
“The No. 1 thing I see with the elderly is they’ve been active all their life and the natural padding in their foot has worn out, so they are literally walking on skin and bones. Nerves get pinched. They’re more prone to plantar fasciitis and bone spurs. If they have a hammer toe or bunion, it makes those areas a lot more tender.
“It’s sort of like a bald tire,” he said.
The best solution to most foot problems is wearing proper shoes with good padding, he said.
“There are all types of padding you can buy over the counter, like Dr. Scholl’s gel cushions, or Sofsole shoe liners. You can go out and spend a lot of money on those hard, custom-made orthotics and they can actually make things worse. The Sofsoles are usually less than $20 a pair. I wear them myself.”
What happens if foot problems go untreated?
“Corns or bunions will just get worse and become more disabling. You become less active. It’s bad for your circulation and your heart. A lot of times it’s as simple as just getting the proper shoe and proper padding. Not all bunions require surgery, but today’s surgery is much better than is used to be and gets much better results.”
Another commonly untreated issue is arthritis, he said.
“A lot of times arthritis goes untreated because people think nothing can be done for it – but that is incorrect. There are a lot of things we can do, from shots to surgery. Foot care options have come a long way,” Montross said.
Ankle arthritis used to be treated by fusion or replacements, he said. Sometimes the outcome was less than desirable.
“Now the ankle replacements are so much easier and longer-lasting (10-15 years), so they are viable option.”
A need for immediate care
Some issues do require immediate attention, like ingrown toenails.
“Ingrown toenails can become infected,” he said. “If untreated, the infection can track down into the bone. That can require amputation of the toe.”
As drastic as that sounds “with today’s technology, even if you lose all your toes, you can walk pretty normally. OK, you can’t do ballet, but you can do jazz and tap,” he said.
Surgery is rarely the first option he chooses.
“Surgery is appropriate typically when you have exhausted all other treatments,” Montross said.
Some problems are directly attributed to wearing high heels, he said.
“I have no problem with women wearing high-heeled shoes on special occasions, but not every day,” he said. “My opinion is that high heels make existing problems worse. Wearing high heels can exacerbate whatever’s going on. If you wear them two hours once a week to go out to dinner, that’s not a problem. But if you wear them eight hours every day ….”
A problem he and other physicians are seeing more of is peripheral neuropathy.
“It definitely is more common than it used to be – mainly because more people are diabetic,” he said. But there also is idiopathic neuropathy, and “we really have no idea what causes it. Could be from a trapped nerve, or just gosh awful bad luck.”
He’s seen the commercials on TV where clinics claim they can cure it.
“There is nothing that is really proven to fully cure it. You can control it with good diet and good shoes. Vitamins and creams and salves may help. Some medications can help. Nothing so far is super-promising, though.”
What are some things you can do to keep your feet healthy?
“Staying active is good for you. It keeps your circulation going,” he said.
“Moisturize your feet every day, or at least a few times a week. A lot of people, when they have dry skin, soak their feet. But that can actually pull out more oil and make them drier. Then they put in Epsom salts – it’s the worst thing you can do for dry skin.”
Regular foot care
It’s a good idea to have a regular foot care regimen at any age, he said.
“Obviously, clean them daily, especially between the toes. You can build up dead skin and tissue – a feeding ground for fungus. Think of it as toe-flossing,” he added. And apply lotion to your feet when you need to – at least once or twice a week.
The right shoes are vital to foot health, he said.
“Wear the proper shoes for the occasion. Don’t wear flip-flops to hike,” for example.
In Colorado’s outdoorsy culture, walkers and hikers should have shoes suitable for those activities.
“Wear what’s comfortable for you and appropriate for the activity,” he said. “Some think a certain brand Is best, but as long as a shoe fits right it’s OK.”
The right size shoe
He recommends getting your feet measured at least once a year for the correct size and fit.
“Your feet get wider and longer as you age,” he noted. “So don’t cram a size 9 foot into a size 8 shoe.”
Cost isn’t necessarily the most important factor, he said.
“Our feet are our foundation, Montross said. “If your feet are off, it can make your ankle or back go off. I had one patient who, after his feet got better, his migraines stopped. Your feet can affect your whole body. If you start limping or favoring a foot, it can throw your whole body out of alignment.
“So take care of ‘em. They need to last you a lifetime.”