|From: Administration on Aging
By: The Administration on Aging
Disease, years of wear and tear, ill-fitting or poorly
designed shoes, poor circulation to the feet, or improperly trimmed toenails cause many
common foot problems.
To prevent foot problems, check your feet regularly --
or, have them checked by a member of the family -- and practice good foot hygiene.
Podiatrists and primary care physicians (internists and family practitioners) are
qualified to treat most feet problems; sometimes the special skills of an orthopedic
surgeon or dermatologist are needed.
Preventing Foot Trouble
Improving the circulation of blood to the feet can help
prevent problems. Exposure to cold temperatures or water, pressure from shoes, long
periods of sitting, or smoking can reduce blood flow to the feet. Even sitting with your
legs crossed or wearing tight, elastic garters or socks can affect circulation. On the
other hand, raising the feet, standing up and stretching, walking, and other forms of
exercise promote good circulation. Gentle massage and warm foot baths can also help
increase circulation to the feet.
Wearing comfortable shoes that fit well can prevent many
foot ailments. Foot width may increase with age. Always have your feet measured before
buying shoes. The upper part of the shoes should be made of a soft, flexible material to
match the shape of your foot. Shoes made of leather can reduce the possibility of skin
irritations. Soles should provide solid footing and not be slippery. Thick soles lessen
pressure when walking on hard surfaces. Low-heeled shoes are more comfortable, safer, and
less damaging than high-heeled shoes.
Common Foot Problems
Fungal and bacterial conditions -- including athlete's
foot -- occur because the feet are usually enclosed in a dark, damp, warm environment.
These infections cause redness, blisters, peeling, and itching. If not treated promptly,
an infection may become chronic and difficult to cure. To prevent these conditions, keep
the feet -- especially the area between the toes -- clean and dry and expose the feet to
air whenever possible. If you are prone to fungal infections, you may want to dust your
feet daily with a fungicidal powder.
Dry skin can cause itching and burning feet. Use mild
soap sparingly and a body lotion on your legs and feet every day. The best moisturizers
contain petroleum jelly or lanolin. Be cautious about adding oils to bath water since they
can make the feet and bathtub very slippery.
Corns and calluses are caused by the friction and
pressure of bony areas rubbing against shoes. A podiatrist or a physician can determine
the cause of this condition and can suggest treatment, which may include getting
better-fitting shoes or special pads. Over-the-counter medicines, contain acids that
destroy the tissue but do not treat the cause. These medicines can sometimes reduce the
need for surgery. Treating corns or calluses yourself may be harmful, especially if you
have diabetes or poor circulation.
Warts are skin growths caused by viruses. They are
sometimes painful and if untreated, may spread. Since over-the-counter preparations rarely
cure warts, get professional care. A doctor can apply medicines, burn or freeze the wart
off, or remove the wart surgically.
Bunions develop when big toe joints are out of line and
become swollen and tender. Bunions may be caused by poor-fitting shoes that press on a
deformity or an inherited weakness in the foot. If a bunion is not severe, wearing shoes
cut wide at the instep and toes may provide relief. Protective pads can also cushion the
painful area. Bunions can be treated by applying or injecting certain drugs, using
whirlpool baths, or sometimes having surgery.
Ingrown toenails occur when a piece of the nail breaks
the skin. This is usually caused by improperly trimmed nails. Ingrown toenails are
especially common in the large toes. A podiatrist or doctor can remove the part of the
nail that is cutting into the skin. This will allow the area to heal. Ingrown toenails can
usually be avoided by cutting the toenail straight across and level with the top of the
Hammertoe is caused by shortening the tendons that
control toe movements. The toe knuckle is usually enlarged, drawing the toe back. Over
time, the joint enlarges and stiffens as it rubs against shoes. Your balance may be
affected. Hammertoe is treated by wearing shoes and stockings with plenty of toe room. In
advanced cases, surgery may be recommended.
Spurs are calcium growths that develop on bones of the
feet. They are caused by muscle strain in the feet and are irritated by standing for long
periods of time, wearing badly fitting shoes, or being overweight. Sometimes they are
completely painless, but at other times the pain can be severe. Treatments for spurs
include using proper foot support, heel pads, heel cups, or other recommendations by a
podiatrist or surgeon.
For More Information on Foot Care, Write to Either of the Following
American Podiatric Medical Association
9312 Old Georgetown Road
Bethesda, MD 20814
American Orthopedic Foot and Ankle Society
222 South Prospect
Park Ridge, IL 60068
The National Institute on Aging Offers a Variety of Information about
Health and Aging, for a List of Publications, Contact
NIA Information Center
P.O. Box 8057
Gaithersburg, MD 20898-8057
Foot Care. From The Administration on Aging U.S.
Department of Health and Human Services. 1994.