We expect a lot from our feet. They get us to all the places we need to go, while providing the anchor and balance crucial to physical activity. Our ability to stay active often depends on keeping our feet healthy.
As we age, foot problems can become common. From aches and pain to bunions and corns, our feet are prone to many conditions that can cause discomfort and impact mobility. This shouldn’t be surprising when you consider that the distance people walk in a lifetime would take them around the globe nearly six times. Yet, our feet are often neglected and foot pain is frequently written off as an insignificant risk to health.
With the belief that foot ailments are not adequately considered as a possible root cause of disability that limits the activity of many older adults, Dr. Marian Hannan, D.Sc., M.P.H.Co-Director of Musculoskeletal Research Center and Senior Scientist, and her team in the Institute for Aging Research at Hebrew SeniorLife, have focused on the significance of foot pain and its impact on senior health and quality of life.
She is currently conducting research on risk factors for foot disorders, arthritis, hip fracture and osteoporosis. She is particularly interested in the effect of biomechanics upon physical function and the influence of body composition and nutrition upon bone health. As we learn more from her research, it becomes even clearer that seniors should understand that foot problems often require medical attention and should not be ignored as an inevitable part of aging.
“We’ve learned that sometimes it is not the foot disorder but the accompanying pain that is the real problem,” Dr. Hannan continued. “IFAR has published work showing that foot disorders do affect people’s balance and balance is a huge concern as a people age.”
Even if a foot disorder does not produce pain, it may still affect balance and gait in such a way as to impact other joints. When foot pain and disorders are ignored, seniors can be well on the way to eventual disability.
Our feet have intricate anatomy, designed to take us where we need to go. We must take the right steps to ensure a pain-free journey. Here are five tips to help you get started on that journey:
1. Discuss any aches or pains in your feet with your doctor. Your doctor may recommend consulting with a podiatrist whose medical school training specializes in the foot. There are an increasing number of day surgery options for a variety of foot problems.
2. Wear proper, supportive footwear to help reduce problems and pain. This is true for everyday footwear as well as footwear for exercise. Custom-made orthotic insoles are available for all types of shoes.
3. Be alert to related changes in your balance or gait and discuss with your doctor. This may be indicative of a problem with your feet that may affect your knee and hip joints also.
4. Maintain a healthy weight to reduce pressure and stress on your feet. Exercise and diet support maintaining a lower weight and will help alleviate or prevent some foot disorders.
5. Care for your feet with regular pedicures. Regular pedicures are a good preventative measure for maintaining healthy feet and reducing the risk of developing several types of foot problems.
A version of this article originally appeared in the Cape Cod Times on February 19, 2016.
About the IFAR Musculoskeletal Research Center
The overarching objective of the Musculoskeletal Research Center at IFAR is to conduct research and disseminate findings on common musculoskeletal conditions of aging such as osteoporosis, osteoarthritis, hyperkyphosis (excessive forward curvature), sarcopenia (loss of muscle mass) and foot disorders, as well as biomechanics of the skeletal system. We promote interdisciplinary research to understand the mechanisms underlying musculoskeletal diseases. We test interventions to prevent the occurrence of disease, their progression and disabling outcomes in older adults.