Be Friendly to Your Feet

Information to help keep your feet healthy as you age

With the heat of summer in full swing, there are a lot of ways we try to keep cool: crank up the air conditioning, wear lighter clothing, and, of course, break out the sandals, flip flops, or wedges. Besides getting the occasional pedicure to keep your feet looking pretty, you may want to consider other ways to be friendly to your feet and keep them healthy during the summer months and all year long.

There’s a saying in fashion: Pain is beauty. What’s fashionable isn’t always the most comfortable choice, especially when it comes to footwear. Yes, wearing high-heeled shoes everyday may look cute, but it can have a negative impact on your foot health over time.

“High heels generally do not cause primary foot problems for women,” said J. Randolph Clements, D.P.M., a Carilion Clinic podiatrist. “But shoes can definitely be aggravators.”

Like with a lot of health conditions, genetics and aging play a major role in the condition of your feet. In general, women have narrower heels and weaker joints than men. Plus, lower-fat diets can decrease bone mass, putting women at a higher risk for sprains, dislocated bones, and stress fractures.

“A common foot issue seen in women is stress fractures from post-menopausal osteoporosis,” Dr. Clements said. “An important way women can protect their feet is by preventing or controlling osteoporosis. Make your bone health a priority.”

Remaining active can prevent osteoporosis but adjusting activity level to include age-appropriate exercises can help. Remember, a healthy diet is also key. Increase your intake of vitamin D, which helps the body absorb calcium.

Osteoporosis is a disease that weakens the bones and increases the risk for unexpected fractures.

“Women who are active for most of their lives want to continue an active lifestyle as they age,” Dr. Clements said. “But unfortunately sometimes their bodies can’t biologically keep up.”

Remaining active can prevent osteoporosis but adjusting activity level to include age-appropriate exercises can help. Remember, a healthy diet is also key. Increase your intake of vitamin D, which helps the body absorb calcium.

“I would also suggest proceeding with bone density testing, if it has been recommended,” Dr. Clements said. “The test can examine your bone strength and is especially important for women.”

Have an open discussion with your primary healthcare provider to find out if bone density testing may be a good option for you.

Along with being aware of osteoporosis, arthritis can also be a major concern for women when it comes to their feet.

“The joints of the foot are no different than those of the knees, hips, and hands,” Dr. Clements said. “Your feet undergo degenerative changes after years of walking and daily activities. The cartilage can wear down and arthritis develops.”

Another issue for women can be fat pad deterioration. As women age, the fat pad on the bottoms of the feet can thin. This means bones in the foot are more prominent and more at risk for injury.

“You’d probably notice the most discomfort in the shower or on tile or hardwood floors, where the surface is not cushioned,” Dr. Clements said. “I recommend people add a mat in the shower and wear thick slippers around the house instead of bare feet for better protection.”

Diabetes can also have a negative impact on feet. Maintaining stable blood sugar levels is the biggest issues for diabetics. Elevated blood sugar can be toxic to nerves, including those in the feet.

“If a person cannot control their blood sugar it can result in neuropathy,” Dr. Clements said. “Neuropathy is a condition that causes the feet to burn, tingle, or even become numb. It can lead to someone not realizing they’ve stepped on something or not noticing a blister or cut until an infection has developed.”

Once a diabetic has a wound, it usually takes longer for it to heal, which can lead to other health complications.

“If you have diabetes, the best treatment for your feet is to be preventative and proactive,” Dr. Clements said. “Try your best to maintain stable blood sugar levels and perform a daily foot check. Checking your feet each day can help you discover a wound quickly, before it becomes more severe.”

So, while we can’t always control our health based on genetics and age, we can make smart choices when it comes to the footwear. As Dr. Clements said, shoes aren’t always to blame, but a bad pair can lead to irritations.

High-heeled or tight-fitting shoes can lead to cramping, tingling, pain in the balls of feet, or even more severe conditions like bunions (a bump on the side of the foot related to a deformity of the big toe) or hammertoes (unnatural bending when toes are forced against the front of shoes). When wearing high heels, it’s recommended not to stand or walk around in heels higher than 2 inches for more than four hours straight.

Help avoid discomfort and possible health issues by grabbing an extra, more comfortable pair of shoes to change into. Also, using inserts for added cushion and support in heels or even in flat shoes can be beneficial.

While women may stop growing in height, their feet are always changing with age. From year to year, foot size and width may vary, so it’s a good idea to get foot measurements every year, to ensure the correct size and fit.

Issues with feet don’t happen overnight, they develop over time. Feet are literally the body’s base support. Don’t let sense of style cripple the health of feet. Take small steps now to prevent foot problems later. Healthy feet are happy feet.

To learn more about wound care treatment offered at Carilion Clinic, please visit CarilionClinic.org or call 800-422-8482.

Laura Markowski is a writer for Carilion Clinic’s marketing communications department. She writes this monthly article on women’s health issues.