Foot Health for Seniors

There is a common misconception that growing older means having to cope with sore feet. The nation’s foot and ankle surgeons disagree and believe seniors shouldn’t be resigned to accepting foot pain as a consequence of aging. Pain from common foot and ankle conditions can be treated successfully with proper diagnosis, non-surgical and surgical treatments, and rehabilitation to help seniors stay active, exercise regularly and maintain a healthy lifestyle. 

Years of wear and tear on the foot and ankle can promote joint deterioration and eventual onset of painful arthritis.

The big toe, for example, is vulnerable. It is the most complex joint of the foot, where bones, tendons and ligaments work together to transmit and distribute the body’s weight. Each day, with every step, it bears a force equal to about twice your body weight.

A common arthritic problem in the big toe is called hallux rigidus, a form of degenerative arthritis that causes pain and stiffness. As the condition advances, range of motion decreases until the big toe becomes stiff. Common causes of hallux rigidus are faulty function (biomechanics) and structural abnormalities of the foot. 

The ankle also is prone to arthritis, especially in those with a history of sprains or other ankle injuries. An improperly rehabilitated ankle sprain, for example, can leave residual ligament damage and weakness or instability in the joint that can lead to osteoarthritis.

Stress Fractures
Brittle bones are vulnerable to tiny, hairline breaks, called stress fractures. In addition to osteoporosis, stress fractures are caused by an abnormal foot structure, deformities and repetitive stress on the feet and ankles, such as running and jumping in recreational activities and sports. 

Fallen Arches
Do arches really fall? Though many believe this is a myth, the terms “fallen arches” and “flatfoot” do refer to a clinical condition in which the arch really does collapse and the foot flattens. The two most common types are:

  • Adult-acquired Flatfoot
    Adult-acquired flatfoot is caused by inflammation of the tendon (posterior tibial tendon) that supports the arch and eventually causes it to lengthen or stretch. It can lead to severe foot pain and degenerative arthritis if left untreated. Those at greatest risk are older men and women who have been active throughout their lives, primarily in occupations that require standing or walking most of the time.
  • Flexible Flatfoot
    Flexible flatfoot begins in childhood or adolescence and usually affects both feet and gets progressively worse through the years. The foot flattens when standing but the arch returns to normal when there is no weight-bearing pressure. As flexible flatfoot progresses, tendons and ligaments in the arch can stretch, tear and become inflamed. Symptoms include pain in the heel, arch, ankle or on the side of the foot, weakness in the foot or leg, and a noticeable “turning in” of the ankle.

Foot Pain Isn’t Normal—Even if You’re Older
Though many older Americans have foot pain, aging alone isn’t responsible. 

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