Common symptoms of foot problems are pain, swelling, redness, tingling and numbness in one or both feet. Many of us probably have experienced some or all of the above. It takes a lot of grit to walk with blisters, right?
Whether causing pain or numbness, foot problems can affect our balance and change how we walk. It increases the risk of falling and injuries which the elderly are particularly vulnerable to.
Our feet are small compared to our bodies which they have to support. Every footfall and every step we take is a big stress on the bones, joints, muscles, ligaments and tendons. Just imagine the wear and tear of our poor feet after decades of standing, walking, jumping and running.
Like other body parts, our feet change as we age. The padding under the heel and the football wear off gradually. The arches are flatter and less flexible, and the ankles and joints become stiff. We need bigger size shoes because the feet are wider and longer. Because of these changes, we may develop foot pain and other problems. Apparently, one in three people over 65 has foot pain, stiffness, or aching feet.
A number of conditions, such as arthritis and gout cause foot pain. The most common ones seen in older adults are listed below.
Fractures or small cracks can happen to anyone of the 26 bones of the foot, especially the toes. This is often caused by overactivity or change in activity, such as trying a new exercise. People with osteoporosis are particularly vulnerable.
Bunions develop when the joints in the big toe (sometimes the small toe) are out of alignment. Eventually, the toe bends abnormally inwards and becomes swollen and tender. Bunions tend to run in families. In the early stage, the pain may be relieved by wearing shoes wide at the instep and toes, taping the toes, or wearing cushion pads. Severe cases require surgery to relieve the pressure and repair the toe joint.
Calluses and corns are dead, yellowish, thickened skin found on the toes or the football. It is caused by friction and pressure when the feet rub against the shoes. Wearing better-fitting shoes may be the answer. Over-the-counter medicines for treating corn contain acids that destroy the tissue but do not treat the cause. It is safer for the elderly, especially those with diabetes or poor circulation, to get help from a podiatrist or chiropodist.
Hammertoes are caused by the shortening of the tendons at the toe joints. Usually, the second toe is affected, but it may happen to other middle toes. The toe
curls up with a rigid or flexible joint, which becomes bigger and stiffer as it rubs against the shoes. Hammertoes can affect walking and balance and lead to other foot problems. It may run in families, but the usual culprit is pointed and badly fitting shoes. Splinting and corrective footwear are helpful. In very serious cases, surgery may be needed.
An ingrown toenail occurs when part of the nail grows into the flesh causing pain and bleeding. It usually affects the large toes and results from not cutting the nails properly. The nail can be removed safely by a foot specialist, and the damaged tissues can heal. Ingrown toenails can often be
avoided by cutting the toenail straight across and level with the top of the toe.
Heel pain is usually caused by heel spurs or plantar fasciitis. A heel spur is a bony protrusion of calcium deposits on the underside of the heel bone. Plantar fasciitis is inflammation of the connective tissues that join the heel bone to the toes. These two conditions are often related. They are caused by overstraining the muscles and ligaments from long periods of standing/walking/ running, wearing badly fitting shoes, or being overweight. Helpful treatments include foot supports, heel pads, heel cups, and physiotherapy. Sometimes surgery is needed.
Our feet can become swollen after standing or sitting for long periods. It is because of blood pooling in the lower part of the body.
A sprained ankle is swollen and painful because you might have torn a ligament or tendon. Another likely cause of swelling is stress fractures.
But swollen feet and ankles can be due to chronic heart and vascular diseases, kidney diseases, and obstruction of the lymphatic system. Therefore, if your feet swell excessively and there is no history of injuries, you must see your doctor immediately.
Numbness and pins-and-needles sensation
Numbness and/or pins and needles sensation in the feet is related to nerve problems of many underlying causes. If your gait becomes unstable and you can’t feel the ground because of the numbness, you risk falling.
Some of the common causes are:
- A pinched nerve, for example, a herniated disk in the lower back.
- Blood supply to a nerve in the foot is reduced or cut off due to peripheral artery disease (PAD). As well as foot numbness, the leg may be cold and painful.
- Peripheral neuropathy is a complication of diabetes; as a result, the patient loses sensation in their feet.
- Numbness can also be related to other neurological disorders such as Multiple Sclerosis, stroke, or long-standing alcoholism.
A podiatrist or chiropodist is a trained specialist in foot care. He or she can diagnose your foot problem and advice the appropriate treatment. Most foot problems can be treated effectively, often simply with a new pair of shoes.
Do you have pain, swelling, or numbness in the feet? Or foot problems such as bunions, hammertoes or corns? If so, don’t suffer needlessly. Go see a podiatrist.