How to Age-Proof Your Feet

Jan. 16, 2015 6 a.m.

Not too long ago, many of us thought that turning 60 meant retiring from a career, taking up a hobby, babysitting the grandchildren and hoping for your health to hold out until you reached the golden years. Times are different now and the baby boomers are redefining this stage of life. It’s common to see our older celebrities like Christie Brinkley and Chuck Norris in exercise commercials perhaps suggesting that 60 is starting to become the new 40. Our favorite blockbuster stars like Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Harrison Ford are resuming old action hero roles. Rock legends like Journey and Santana are still touring the globe. A whole wave of people in their 60s, 70s and beyond are certainly not ready to trade in their active and more youthful roles for walkers and wheelchairs.

Unfortunately, as we get older, so do our feet. In fact, foot problems are often the first signs of aging. Ligaments, tendons and muscles become weaker and thinner and less able to hold the joints in proper alignment. Joint cartilage wears down as bones move out of alignment resulting in toes that are no longer straight or parallel to one another, and feet become lumpy and bumpy. Arches tend to flatten and collapse. Fat pads in the bottom of the feet get thinner losing their ability to absorb weight bearing loads and impacts. Skin loses its ability to effectively produce sweat and oil resulting in peeling, flaking, itchiness, discoloration, thickening, hardness and cracks. Toenails become thicker, dryer and discolored because of decreased blood flow to the toes, trauma and nail fungus. Toes and feet become more crooked, and the shape, length and width changes.

People with predisposing factors such as obesity, peripheral neuropathy, flat feet, pronation or supination, osteoporosis, arthritis and diabetes are even more likely to have foot problems with age.

I know this all sounds gloomy, but there are many easy ways to age proof your feet if you are proactive. Here are some tips:

* Be more proactive and inspect your feet regularly. Look for a change in color, temperature, nail discoloration, cuts or cracks in the skin, scaling, peeling or new growths.

* Practice good hygiene. Wash and dry your feet regularly; and exfoliate and moisturize dry flaky skin.

* Trim your nails properly. Trim them straight across and not too short. Avoid cutting them on the sides or corners to prevent ingrown toenails and infection.

* Wear shoes that are proper for the activity you are engaged in and ones that accommodate the shape of your feet. Replace worn out shoes and try not to wear the same shoes all the time.

* Wear comfortable shoes instead of fashionable ones. Whenever possible, avoid wearing high heels, or at least reduce the length of the heel and frequency of use.

* Wear shoes with a larger toe box if you have crooked toes, bunions, hammertoes, corns or arthritis in your toes. A larger toe box will prevent your toes from pressing against the top of the shoe and reduce your chances of forming an open sore or ulcer.

* Select stable shoes if you have weak ligaments and tendons, Posterior Tibial Tendonitis (micro-tears on the tendon on the inside of the ankle), or pronation (inward/outward movement of the ankle/foot).

* Don’t buy shoes that are too tight. Shop at the end of the day when your feet are at their maximum size and measure your feet standing.

* Wear custom orthotics if you have pain in the ball or heel of your foot, or if you have weak arches.

* Wear appropriate hosiery and socks if you have changes in circulation or other vascular diseases or diabetes. Avoid wearing nylon and rayon socks if you have dry flaky skin.

* Consider laser treatment and new nail restoration products to get rid of toenail fungus and to avoid embarrassment.

* Don’t ignore foot pain because it’s not normal, especially if you have persistent pain that is limiting your mobility and lifestyle.

* Exercise caution when doing self-treatment or using home remedies. Let a podiatrist treat your corns, calluses and ingrown toenails to avoid infection and discomfort.

* Don’t be afraid to consult with your podiatrist about surgical options if you have structural deformities like bunions, crooked toes, hammertoes and bone spurs, or end stage arthritis.

* It’s critical to consult with your podiatrist if you have any predisposing conditions to avoid further complications as you age.

For those of you who are aspiring to feel 20 years younger than you are, become more aware of your feet and care for them properly. New advancements in medical products, therapies and surgical options are available to address a wide range of foot and problems.

If you are seeking a board certified foot and ankle surgeon to help you heal, restore, and rejuvenate your feet, contact Dr. John Sigle at (217) 787-2700. Dr. Sigle has a clinic in Springfield and at SIU School of Medicine and at St. Mary’s Hospital in Decatur. For additional information and directions, visit