Foot Care in the Elderly-Tips for Healthy and Painless Feet

We usually try to take care of our face, neck, hands as we age. Do we pay the same attention to our feet as we get older? Some of us do, some don’t…But, we should, as they undergo age-related changes as much as any other part of our body.

There are some typical changes that become obvious with age. If we are aware of these newly acquired issues, we may adjust our activities, footwear and care so that we still have great looking and feeling feet, even though old ones.

In this article I’ll try to work out in detail the changes we might expect, give a list of foot conditions that may occur at any age, so at an old one, as well, tips on what can you do about each and how to relax, energize and generally take a good care of your aging feet.

Changes That Come With Aging

Cushioning thins. Remember those small, but full, round little feet you held when your child was born? You had the same full, round ones-once. As you age, those round cushions under your heels and the balls of your feet loose fat, elastin and collagen and become much thinner. The more your feet are used, the more pressure is put on them, the faster this thinning occur, until one day, you are close to be walking on your bones.

Circulation slows down, usually affected by a range of age-related conditions. When blood flows slower to your feet, it also means less oxygen and nutrition to your muscles, which will weaken. Not to mention the slowed down healing of possible cuts, injuries or even a new-shoe blister. You may even develop an ulcer, painful and hard to cure.

Tendons tighten-with less and less water content as you age, you can experience stiffness in your ankles and feet. Being less flexible makes you more exposed to tears and ruptures.

Ligaments lengthen. These are the connective tissues strengthening and stabilizing joints. They determine how high your foot arch is. When they lengthen as you age, you may have flat feet and may feel pain in your arches. You’ll also need a larger size of footwear.

Foot Care in the Elderly-Tips for Healthy and Painless Feet

Skin dries out. As with any other part of skin, as we age, the production of collagen is significantly decreased as the skin’s ability to retain moisture. If we feel this on our face as more wrinkles, our feet might become more itchy or even peel.

Heals crack. Mature skin, with less elastin and oil is drier also on heels. Being overweight will add to the problem, as heals with too much pressure may crack into unpleasant, painful fissures, which can very easily lead to an infection, so a proper foot care is essential.

For extremely dries, cracked skin a special cream may be the help you need. It can help repair your heels (and the whole foot, when needed), and prevent further moisture loss, if applied regularly every day, even better twice a day. However, If your heels get swollen and red, pay a visit to your doctor. You may need a prescription medicine or ointment.

Swollen ankles and feet. Although this can happen at any age, due to a fluid build-up, it is likely to occur at an older age, as some causes can be age-related (kidney, liver, heart problems). Otherwise, it can be caused by obesity, having a too salty diet, standing in same position for a long time, wearing too tight shoes or socks and even some medicines commonly prescribed for high blood pressure or depression.

A List of Foot Conditions That May Affect Our Feet, at Almost Any Age, Not Only as We Get Older

A very long list could be put together, but here we’ll have a look at the most frequently occurring ones. I tried to provide a way to relieve the pain and even improve conditions, where it is possible.

Improper Footwear Caused Conditions

Blisters, corns and calluses are most often caused by pressure of improperly fitting shoes. While blisters are more like a bubble filled with fluid and will improve on their own, corns and calluses are hard, dead skin spots, which can become deeper, if not taken care of. As much as they are an inconvenience, they are not a health threat, unless you are diabetic, when any opening on the skin might attract an infection.

However, there is little you can effectively do on your own. You should never try to dig, cut or shave it with a razor or any other sharp instrument. You may try filing the spot, soaking and creaming it frequently, or applying a remover liquid. If repeated application did not help, your best choice is to visit a doctor.

Also, ditch the shoes that irritate your feet or toes, wear comfortable socks and try placing pads or cushion between your foot and shoes where it rubs against each other.

Bunions

A very common deformity in women, after wearing for years tight shoes, although it may be also genetic. It is an outstanding bony bump on the side of the big toe joint. It can be extremely painful, especially as it has no room in the shoe and it is rubbing against it while walking. Silicone spacers are available which may help, as they re position the toe, but it might even need a surgical treatment.

A natural remedy might be applied for bunions which involves rubbing warmed olive oil into the bunion, the toes and the lower foot for 15 minutes at least twice a day, which will increase circulation and blood flow to the foot and toes encouraging fluid to move around the bones again. It will not re position the toe to eliminate the bunion, though, only relieve the pain.

Ingrown Toenail
Ingrown Nail-Foot Care in the Elderly-Tips for Healthy and Painless Feet
The edge of the nail grow into the fold of the skin around the nail. It can become pretty painful, red, swollen. Mostly it occurs on the big toe. If you wear a shoe that touches it, you will feel sharp pain with each step. The cause is usually the improper cutting, which should be straight over, not curved, i.e. not the corners cut off. Keep your toenails short, but never shape them round.

You can relive it by soaking your feet in warm water with Epsom salts. It will also soften the skin folds and you can carefully draw the toenail out from the skin. Do resist the temptation to cut off the part of the nail that was grown in. Place a clean tiny piece of gaze under it, so you prevent a new growing in. Change it daily and when your nail grows out enough, trim it straight. Keep your toenails short, but never shape them round.

Infections

Fungal Infection

Fungus gets to the skin under the nail and causes them to become yellow, and thick with time. In some cases, nails might become loose. This is one of the most difficult problems to resolve, though countless creams and ointments exist. They have a hard time however to reach the fungus through the nail, and can also not reach it from the outer parts of skin.

A natural remedy also exists, but it will anyway require a long-lasting and persistent effort to deal with it: soaking feet in warm water with 120ml of apple vinegar and 2 tbsp of baking soda, every day, for 15 minutes.

Athlete’s Foot

is an itchy, dries, cracking and peeling condition of the skin caused by a fungus and can be picked up anywhere where is warm and dump, or transferred by a direct touch, as it is contagious.

Numerous anti-fungal creams are freely available in pharmacies, but you may try also a natural treatment: add 30 ml of apple vinegar and 1 tbsp of salt into some warm water and soak your feet in it. Do not forget to tap them completely dry after soaking.

Plantar Warts

These irritating small growths can occur either on heels or on the balls of your foot. It is caused by Human Papillomavirus. A tiny cut on your skin is enough to open the path for the virus to get into your body. It can cause pain while walking, and can be in a form of grainy, red, rough, black spotted surface or, if it grows inwards it resembles a callus (hard, thickened skin spot).

Melissa Piliang, MD, dermatologist from Cleveland Clinic offers an unusual natural remedy for dealing with warts: to cover the wart with duct tape for 24 hours a day, changing it right away as it falls off. “The skin underneath will become wet, pale and wrinkled, and warts dislike that. Keep it on for two to three weeks, and if the wart looks smaller, then continue using the duct tape until it goes away.”-she says. Apparently the wart will become white and soft, when you need to gently rub it with (fine) sandpaper to remove the outer layer. After this, you’ll want to repeat the duct tape replacement in a couple of days. She warns to have a new piece of sandpaper for each single use.

There is a possibility to freeze the warts off by cryotherapy, but it should be done by a professional.

Inflamation

Arthritis (Osteoarthritis or Rheumatoid Arthritis)

is an inflammation inside the joints. The difference between the two are in the cause and in some manifestation. While osteoarthritis occurs as a result of tear and wear and finally a degeneration of the cartilage and bone damage at the joint surfaces, the rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune condition, where the body mistakenly attacks its own tissue, causing an inflammation of the cartilage and also damaging the bone.

Over time, it will lead to deformed joints which we often see. Unfortunately, neither of the two are curable, so any treatment is focused on pain relief, inflammation lowering and preventing or slowing down the degeneration of joints.

What you can do is avoid slip on shoes, like moccasins or loafers, as they do not provide enough support. Instead, opt for lace-ups with flexible, preferably rubber soles for absorbing the stress and supporting your foot. At least, consider some supporting insoles.

Regularly stretching your foot will also help ease the pain. You can do it by hand, or putting a rubber bend around your foot balls while you sit on a chair. Lift your leg horizontally and pull the bend until you feel the pull in your calf, for a few seconds, then repeat. Later move the bend up to your toes and do the same. You will feel the pull in your foot balls now. Crumple a small paper ball and try lifting it with your barefoot toes. All these exercises will relieve some of your pain and make your life easier.

Other Changes and Conditions

Plantar Fasciitis

A long ligament (Plantar fascia-heck the name of the condition) runs along the sole of our feet. It’s there to support the arch. Runners, joggers may suffer from this pain in the bottom of heels, as the ligament gets irritated by a constant stress. An overweight person or someone with naturally high arches is more likely to suffer from this condition. It can be especially painful upon getting up in the morning.

You can regularly stretch your foot to relieve the tension on the ligament, and do some ball or cylinder rolling. You can sit in a chair, raising your toes first and then rolling over your foot to raise your heels. Make sure you raise them to the higher extent. After this, you can do the same while in standing position.

During night, you can wear night splints, which will help stretch the ligament properly during a long time. Another important tip: do stretching exercises while you are still in bed, to ensure the blood flow and avoid the pain of stressing the ligament after a long period of inaction at night.

Flat Feet Problems
Normal and Flat Foot-Foot Care in the Elderly-Tips for Healthy and Painless Feet
Another cause of pain in feet, although many people live with flat feet and no pain. Whether you are born with flat feet, or an injury, diabetes, high blood pressure or obesity damaged the tendons that support the arch of your feet, it can become painful, with a lot of standing in one place, or with much walking. You may feel fatigue in your whole foot, but especially your arch, and perhaps even in your leg.

The pain can spread from heel and ankle all the way up to knee, hip and even lower back. It is not unusual to walk like a duck, with ankles rolled-in, especially in overweight persons.

Flat feet need serious support in form of special shoes that support the arch instead of the damaged tendons, or by orthotics like shoe insoles for flat feet which you can transfer from shoe to shoe.

Physical exercising can be done while sitting in a chair: roll a soft, tennis ball sized ball back and forth for 2-3 minutes with one, then with the other leg, repeat a few times. Do it whenever you have a chance through the day, at least 2-3 times. Try picking up a crumpled paper ball as in arthritis exercises and also do the same stretching. Although these exercises are useful, sometimes flat feet become a case for surgery.

Achilles Tendinitis

Achilles is the tendon that connects calf to the heel. We use it when we stand on our toes or climb the stairs. It can weaken as we age and as a result our heel or the back of our ankle may hurt, we may feel stiffness or swelling at the back of our ankle, sometimes even hear a grating noise when we move the ankle.

However, if the pain in the heel or calf is sudden and sharp, it might be a torn tendon. If this happens to you, don’t ignore the problem, see your doctor. You might need surgery for serious tears.

If there is not a tear, exercise is again your best friend here: take a strong rubber band, sit on a flat surface where you can stretch your legs and put the rubber band around the balls of your foot. Push away with your foot, while pulling the bend. Let it back and repeat, at least 15 times, then change the foot. Keep repeating until you reached 4-5 cycles.

When you can already comfortably reach this level, you may try the steps. Stand on a step with only the balls of your foot and then lower your heel to the point where you feel the pull in your calf. Pause after 10-15 repetition. Be careful, though, not to overdo it-you should feel the movement, but it shouldn’t hurt.

Diabetic Foot Ulcer

is one of the primary diabetes feet problems. According to Diabetes.UK-having diabetes means you’re at much greater risk of developing foot problems. Raised blood sugar can damage your nerves and with it the sensation in your feet, so small cuts and wounds will remain unnoticed. A blister, for example, which you’ll not know about, as you don’t feel it.

As your blood circulation is poor, the blood supply to your feet is poor, which may mean the healing is slower. This blister becomes bigger, infected and turn into a foot ulcer. Due to the decreased ability to heal, it remains infected and worsens.

May lead even to unavoidable amputations. A regular foot care and a literally daily detailed inspection of the feet is especially essential in diabetics.

The most effective way of treating a foot ulcer is a total contact cast, which is applied by a professional. It removes the weight bearing off the ulcer itself, distributing it evenly over the whole foot. Even though the healing speed is much higher this way, it still may require several weeks or months depending on the size and location of infection.

If you are a diabetic, wear well fitted shoes. Some special diabetic extra depth shoes usually don’t come cheap, but they can certainly add a lot to your safer and more painless walking, being able to accommodate a prescribed insole or to provide extra room for foot or toe deformities.

Do not wear tight socks and avoid sitting too long with your legs crossed or pressed against the edge of the chair. Keep your blood sugar under control. And I know I sound like a broken record, but: quit smoking-it narrows the arteries and thus obstructs blood flow, which is already difficult with diabetes.

Deformities of Bones and Joints

Bone Spurs

These often occur on heels, big toe or mid-foot. These are bony growths on the edge of the foot bones. They might remain unnoticed, without any symptoms, or they may cause numbness, tenderness, pain, depending on the size and location. When it presses tissues and nerves nearby it can be awfully painful.

Most often they grow as a result of local inflammation, osteoarthritis, for example. It may make the walking difficult, as any pressure can cause pain. No exercise can remove the grown bone, but cushioning and padding your shoes at the right places can make your walking less painful.

There are cases, however, where the new bone growth irritates the nerves and tissues inside so much, that only surgical treatment can help.

Hammertoe

Hammertoes-Foot Care in the Elderly-Tips for Healthy and Painless FeetThis is a bending deformity in joints of the toes except the big one. At the beginning, toes look like they are voluntarily contracted, but they soon become worse. It is hard to wear shoes and the affected toe can develop corns, due to the constant toe rubbing against the shoe. Inflammation is frequently present accompanied with a burning sensation.

It can’t be treated by only natural remedies, but the pain can be eased by some stretching: grab your toes so that you can equally stretch them downwards up to the point where knuckles are prominent and you feel weak cramps in your arch. Do this gently and gradually increase the repetition, as your toes become more flexible.

When they regained most of their flexibility, you can start stretching the tip of your bended toe backwards, while gently pressing the bended joint downwards, so that your toe gets in the straight position. Repeat it, but always listen to your body response and do not try to fix the issue too soon. Build up your repetition gradually.

Pads and orthotics inserted into the shoes are quite helpful with this condition and a somewhat pain-free walking can be achieved by Hammer toe splints, which fix the toes in a better position. There is a wide range of varieties on online.

Changing the footwear altogether, avoiding too tight or too short shoes, those with high heels or pointed toes can be helpful, too. Despite all the effort, in some cases, surgery is still unavoidable.

Claw Toe

Similar to hammertoe, but all the joints are affected, particularly the top ones, near the tip of toes. They bend and curl exactly as a claw. The tip of your toes now face the floor and you practically walk on the tip of your nails. With age, these will go more rigid and won’t be movable any more. It is also very difficult to wear shoes. To understand how much, try curling your toes intentionally in your shoes. A pretty uncomfortable feeling, isn’t it. Claw toes are like that all the time.

As in the previous condition, pain relief is what non-operative treatment is focused on, by the same exercises, focusing on the right position of your toes and relieving pain by pads and other orthotics. If already in later stage, when the joints are stiff in bent position, surgery can straighten toes, but can leave them stiff. Recovery from the surgery may take a long time, weeks and even months.

Stress Fractures

These tiny cracks can be a result of long running, or repetitive jumping, or any other high-impact activity where a frequent force is applied on the foot bones.

Additionally, osteoporosis, characteristic for advanced age, makes bones more brittle and easier to fracture, in feet, as well. When it happens, it may go with swelling, but you also may not even notice any symptoms.

However, it will worsen by time and will require a long recovery. Think of it as of a broken bone. It needs time to heal, doesn’t it? Sometimes, as with more severe bone breaks, even crutches may be needed, to relieve the bone from excess weight bearing and promote the faster healing.

Surgery is very rarely used with this condition, however, if the fracture does not heal, it becomes necessary. In any case, resting the affected foot is something you can’t avoid.

Pampering Your Feet

If you are lucky enough to have none of the above issues, but just need to relax your feet after a tiresome day, here is what you can do:

Prepare 3-4l (around a gallon) of warm water, and dissolve 100-120g (3-4oz) of Epsom salt in it. You can add a few drops of any essential oil you like to work on your spirits, as well. Dip your toes in to check the temperature, then immerse the whole foot in it. Soak for about 15 minutes and use a soft, fluffy towel to tap it dry, not forgetting the space between your toes. You can go on with a nice foot massage with a good cream, but this time do not go with it between your toes. Moist and warm environment is what a fungus infection likes the most.

The cream I use before bed time is this. From time to time, I also put on cotton cosmetic socks for the night.

Do not forget-as with the rest of your body, keeping active and on the move will help to keep your feet healthy. Moving will tone up muscles, strengthen arches and stimulate blood circulation.

Final Thoughts

What are your thoughts on foot care in the elderly, especially? Do you think the list should be longer? Or shorter? Would you add something? I’d like to read about your potential experience with any of foot-related issues in the comments, and it would certainly be beneficial to readers.

And, as always, feel free to reach out should you have questions and I’ll be happy to answer to the best of my knowledge.

With Love,

Kerryanne

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12 Comments

  1. Wow, who would have thought that there could be so many issues attributed to feet alone. None of them sound in any way comfortable to deal with.

    I do have to invest in a good cream for dry skin though as my feet do tend to be dry. Thanks for the suggestions and also for the heads up and tips on addressing these issues.

  2. Hi Keryanne. Thanks for your article. The feet are very sensitive part of human’s body and I know it can be very painful if something’s wrong. When I was younger I suffered from nail damage( soccer injury) and the nail got better indeed, but it never got to the original state. I am wondering what do you think about standard cremes available in the drugstores? Would you recommend some of them?

    • Hi Julius, you are welcome!
      There are not many products that target the strenghtening of toe nails exactly, but you can try Flexitol Nail Revitaliser Gel in Superdrugs, which aimes toremove discoloration in nails, if any, and to soften, but nourish them, restoring their health. This one is suitable for toes, as well. You can also try Nu Nale Nail Strengthening Cream in Boots, for example, but it can be found in other drugstores, as well. I hope this helpes .
      All the best with your nail.
      Kerryanne

  3. I found this article searching for one condition but found a lot more information then I expected, thanks!
    I am 43 now and have never really taken good care of my skin in general and over the last year or so I’ve had issues with my feet drying, cracking, and causing me a lot of pain.
    Besides “trying” to make a habit of moisturizing everyday I’m not to sure what else to do.
    I’m getting to the stage now (better late then never) that I need to take better care of my body before I get to old to do anything about it.

    I know this article was geared more towards elderly, but it seems many of these tips I can put into practice now, correct?
    If not are you comfortable recommending an article that might be more fitting for me?

    • Hi Lee, you are more than welcome! Indeed, I do have the elderly in mind when writing an article, but, this one certainly has much that younger people can apply, as well.
      As for your feet, if you have developed already a layer of dry, cracked skin, moisturiser can’t penetrate deep enough to provide a real benefit. So, you’ll need to regularly soak your feet and remove as much of the softened old skin as you can, using a good natural pumice stone, then generously apply the moisturiser. Put on clean cotton socks and leave them on through the night. Add a new layer of the moisturiser in the morning. You can repeat the exfoliating up to three times a week. With persistent care, your feet will gradually become soft and pain free. Good luck!
      Also, feel free to browse the rest of the articles, as many incorporate prevention of health issues which can occur at a later stage of life.
      All the best,
      Kerryanne

  4. LOL, as far as I am concerned the list can be shorter. But that is only because I have several of those conditions and reading what else is possible as well, doesn’t make me cheerfull.
    But you have done a great job compiling this list and giving tips, so thank you, Kerryanne.
    I had swimmers’ eczema and read somewhere coconut oil could be helpful. So now I almost daily rub coconut oil in between my toes. And what started as a way to get rid of the residue of the oil I have now extended to a foot massage. It’s lovely! I can highly recommend it as a way to treat yourself with loving kindness. 🙂

    • Oh, I’m sorry if I made you sad 🙁 But, it’s better to know then not to, I hope. Also, now you know how little of the possible conditions affects you 😉
      Thank you for the tip about massage-it is a wonderful addition to a healthy care and quite enjoyable. If you can get someone else to do it on your feet-even better 🙂

  5. Hi Kerryanne,

    Our feet are so important, they carry our whole weight for many decades, and yet we tend to neglect our feet most of the time … I am guilty of it too. Looking at the photos of the normal and flat feet, I am glad that see that my foot is normal, and I do not have any of the mentioned issues, but as I said, I neglect my feet by not getting them pedicures in years … and since I do not wear shoes – only sandals and flip flops – my heels are hard … I do take care of them sometimes, but I could do better. I will give myself a foot bath on a more regular basis from now on, at least once a week.

    • Hi Christine, absolutely-our feet served us tirelessly, no matter how we treated them. We could just as well pay back a bit to them 😉 You made a good decision for yourself and your feet will thank you for the care in the long run. If you add moisturising them twice a day, or at least daily, your heels will soften gradually.
      Thanks for visiting Christine, it’s always a pleasure to see you around.

  6. Hi Kerryanne and thanks so much for this informative article.
    My mum is suffering greatly with mobility at the moment and it’s not because she’s frail or injured in any way. She simply finds standing for any period of time painful due to bunions. Apparently she can have these surgically removed but I just don’t know if it’s something that would heal well and lead to better life quality. What are your thoughts?

    • Hi Marketa
      Dependig on the size and level of deformity, your Mum might try non-surgical solutions first. Choosing a suitable footware (wide fit, extra depth), or custom-made shoes, or even having the existing ones stretched at the point where they meet with the bunion, might help. Adding some orthotics will relieve pressure on her feet and make walking more comfortable.
      If none of these helps, then perhaps the surgery is the best solution. It is pretty successful, but takes about 4-6 month to fully recover, which is mostly the reason people procrastinate it as long as they can. If nothing else worked, this will significantly improve your Mum’s ability to live a full life.
      All the best, to both of you.
      Kerryanne

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