5 Changes That Happen To The Feet With Age
Posted by Jenn F. on Friday, July 10th, 2015
Unfortunately, Ponce de Leon and other historic explorers never did find that elusive “Fountain of Youth,” so we are all prone to the worst degenerative disease of all — aging! Sure, you can get a little Botox for your face or pop a pill to manage other symptoms, but what can one do for aging feet? Furthermore, what effects of aging are normal, and what necessitate treatment by one of our NYC podiatrists? The Center For Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine explains all.
1. Dry skin, rashes and calluses
As we get older, there is a naturally decreasing skin cell turnover, decreasing collagen production and thinning of the skin. The skin is especially important on our feet because it provides a barrier to infection. Our NYC podiatrists often treat patients with dry skin on the soles of their feet, which can cause itchy rashes when a break in the skin occurs. Cracks and calluses along the heels of the feet are common as well. There are many products you can buy over-the-counter to treat cracked heels, but you’ll need to seek treatment from a doctor if you notice a change in color in the skin of your feet or legs, signaling infection.
2. Thicker and more brittle toenails
Toenail growth slows from 2-3 down to 1 millimeter a month, due to hormonal changes in the body. The nails become thicker due to these hormonal changes, and may also thicken worse-than-normal if the patient has inadequate circulation from peripheral artery disease or hypothyroidism. If the nails turn particularly yellow with a chalky-looking patch on them, you may have onychomycosis, a fungal infection of the toenails. The prevalence of clinically-treated toenail fungus is said to be about 20% of patients over 60. Rarely does toenail fungus go away on its own. Some patients use tea tree oil to treat it naturally with limited success, but most people see greater success with a combination of laser toenail fungus removal and oral antifungal medication, although the latter requires liver monitoring and requires special consideration in the elderly.
3. Swelling & foot size changes
The causes of swelling are poorly understood, but it is believed related to cardiovascular disease, hormonal changes, infections and certain medications. The types of drugs most commonly associated with foot and ankle swelling include: diabetes drugs, antidepressants, calcium channel blockers, steroids and hormones. In some cases, it might be that gravity simply bears down on the aging and less resilient foot ligaments and squeezes fluid from leaky veins in the lower extremities, which causes swelling. If the swelling persists for a long period of time, even after elevating your feet, and you have considerable pain or trouble fitting into your shoes, then it’s time to see one of our NYC podiatrists to make sure the swelling isn’t related to more systemic health issues.
In addition to swelling, a number of other changes occur that cause the feet to alter in shape and size. The body’s tendons and ligaments lose strength, causing strains, arch drop and foot lengthening. Washington podiatrist Dr. Steven Pribut estimates that people over 40 gain half a shoe size every 10 years. One 2006 study looking at 440 U.S. veterans found that only 25% of the 67-year-olds were wearing the right shoe size. More flexible and flatter feet increase the propensity to sprain the ankle and fall, so it’s important that you meet with a podiatrist to find the proper type and size footwear to accommodate these changes and increase stability.
4. Fat pad reduction & pain
As we get older, fatter and heavier, the fat pads on the bottoms of our feet thin out. The feet’s ability to absorb shock diminishes, causing pain, soreness and tingly nerves. Corns and calluses form on the balls of the feet and heels. Sometimes it feels as though you’re walking directly on your bones. The plantar fascia often compensates to absorb the shock in the absence of thick fat pads, but this, in time, stretches out, drops the arch and contributes to a wide range of pains and problems — from plantar fasciitis to bunion development. Some patients find that basic over-the-counter metatarsal pads inserted into the shoe work wonders to increase shock absorption, while other patients may need to visit us for custom orthotics and footwear counseling.
5. Arthritis & bone density changes
Arthritis is the most widely-publicized “menace to the aging feet.” In fact, almost half of Americans in their 60s and 70s have arthritis in their feet. The ankle joint, subtalar joint and big toe joint are frequent hot-spots for age-related arthritis. In addition to this “wear and tear” damage to the joint cartilage, many older people also encounter a decrease in bone density that leaves them more prone to stress fractures.
Early signs of arthritis and bone changes include: stiffness in the morning that subsides as the day goes on, decreased range of motion and dull aches that come and go. Starting in your thirties and forties, the best you can do to prevent arthritis is engage in low-impact exercises, wear comfortable shoes, focus on proper form while engaging in athletic activities, have all foot and ankle injuries treated professionally, take supplements (like glucosamine and chondroitin, ASU or hyaluronic acid), and avoid placing undue stress on the foot joints (like using a seat while gardening, rather than squatting, for instance).
Professional treatment once you have arthritis may include: anti-inflammatory medication, steroid injections, physical therapy, weight loss, custom orthotics, bracing, dietary changes, and surgical procedures ranging from joint cleaning to joint replacement.
For more information on aging foot care in NYC, contact our board-certified podiatrists who have decades of experience treating these issues.
If you have any foot problems or pain, contact The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine. Dr. Josef J. Geldwert, Dr. Katherine Lai, Dr. Ryan Minara and Dr. Mariola Rivera have helped thousands of people get back on their feet. Unfortunately, we cannot give diagnoses or treatment advice online. Please make an appointment to see us if you live in the NY metropolitan area or seek out a podiatrist in your area.