You may take your feet for granted most of your life, but as you age, foot care becomes more important.
“There are many foot problems that start to show up around age 50,” said David Zarkou, DPM, of Samaritan Orthopedic Surgeons in Newport. “If you’ve never paid attention to what kind of shoes you wear or how much standing you do, this is the time when you realize your feet become less forgiving as you age.”
According to the Journal of the American Podiatric Medical Association, 71 percent of adults age 65 and older reported suffering from foot problems. But just because foot conditions are common, it doesn’t mean they are unavoidable. To keep your feet nimble now and into the future, take care to avoid these common pitfalls.
Ill-fitting shoes create the most problems for feet.
“As you age, your feet start to change,” said Zarkou. “They become wider and sometimes the arches will begin to drop and that can lead to your foot becoming longer.”
If you’ve always been an 8 but an 8 is no longer comfortable, your foot is probably changing. Zarkou recommends those age 60 and older have their feet measured at least once a year and to shop for new shoes when your old ones become uncomfortable. It may also be time to consider low-heeled shoes and orthotics. Specialty shoe stores will usually have knowledgeable staff who can help you find comfortable shoes to fit your feet.
Bunions are a bony bump at the base of the big toe that can become painful, and become progressively worse, if left untreated. Bunions are caused by wearing shoes that squeeze the toes too tightly, and some people have a foot structure that is more prone to bunions than others.
“Bunions can typically be treated with footwear, padding or changing your activities, such as standing for long periods of time,” said Zarkou. “Surgery can help, but first you want to explore what is causing the bunion in the first place.”
According to the journal American Family Physician, toenail fungus occurs in 10 percent of the general population but 50 percent of those age 70 and older. Although not usually painful, toenail fungus can lead to foot ulcers in people with diabetes. For older adults, toenail fungus could lead to cellulitis, a bacterial skin infection that requires antibiotics.
Toenail fungus most often begins as athlete’s foot that has been left untreated. To avoid toenail fungus, wear synthetic socks that wick moisture away from the foot and use shower shoes in public areas such the swimming pool or gym locker room.
If you have an elderly loved one with physical limitations, it’s a good idea to keep tabs on their feet. It can become much more of a challenge for those with arthritis or balance issues to reach their feet or even manually handle nail clippers. You can help your loved one by assisting with nail trimming, making a “double-date” for a pedicure, or visiting a podiatrist together.
“For older patients who aren’t already seeing a podiatrist, a foot exam should be part of a regular annual exam with a primary care provider,” said Zarkou. “The provider will check for problems including signs of toenail fungus to help treat symptoms early.”
When to Visit a Specialist
How do you know if it’s time for you to see a specialist about your feet? The Journal of the American Podiatric Medical Association reported that only 39 percent of people with foot problems talk to a doctor about it. If you have a condition that affects your feet such as diabetes, or you are not able to keep your feet in good condition by trimming toenails regularly and drying thoroughly between toes after bathing, a podiatrist can help. Any unexplained pain in your feet is also usually best addressed by a podiatrist, who specializes in the bones, muscles and structure of the foot.
“Having prolonged pain or discomfort in your feet can interfere with your quality of life,” said Zarkou. “And aging doesn’t mean you have to settle for a lower quality of life.”
Dr. David Zarkou, DPM, AACFAS, is a podiatrist – or foot and ankle specialist – and practices at Samaritan Orthopedic Surgeons in Newport. He specializes in foot and ankle trauma and injuries, and various foot and ankle deformities. Dr. Zarkou completed an extensive, three–year surgical residency in Ohio, where he trained with orthopedic and vascular surgeons, and various other specialties. When not at work, he enjoys spending time with his wife and five children exploring beaches, fishing and hiking.
Dr. Zarkou, along with Dr. Darrell Prins (in Lincoln City) treat various foot and ankle conditions from diabetic ulcers, to ingrown toenails, to foot and ankle fractures and sprains.
Visit our online health library to read more about feet and ankle concerns.