Top Tips From Podiatrists

By Sharon Naylor

October 8, 2012 6 min read

While many seniors pay special attention to their blood pressure and blood sugar levels, it's important to pay attention to the care and well-being of your feet, as well. After all, your feet support your body weight, and keep you mobile and enjoying an active lifestyle. When your feet feel good, you feel good. When they're achy and painful, it slows you down and limits the possibilities of your life. In some cases, foot problems can indicate or even cause serious health problems.

"Aging can naturally increase the risk of certain foot ailments," says Joseph Caporusso, podiatrist and president of the American Podiatric Medical Association. "It's important to know the symptoms of age-related foot ailments and take steps to minimize their impact on your overall health."

If you have diabetes, foot care is especially essential, with daily inspections crucial so that you may retain the healthy use of your feet, and avoid painful, debilitating and costly surgeries. Foot-related complications are common among the nearly 26 million Americans who have diabetes. Proper diet, exercise, medical care and careful daily care can help people with diabetes avoid the most serious complications of the disease, including amputation.

The APMA, the International Council on Active Aging and the Institute for Preventative Foot Health suggest the following steps to take for your smart foot care:

*Daily Care

--Wash your feet more carefully. Don't just soap your feet up in the shower. Clean between each of your toes, and dry your feet thoroughly to prevent fungal infections and athlete's foot that can create more serious foot infections down the road.

--Rotate your footwear so that you're never wearing damp pairs that encourage fungal and bacterial growth.

--Inspect your feet daily, checking for any sores, splits, dry heel cracks, splinters and other maladies that can become infected. When left unchecked, seniors can often develop foot ulcers (open wounds) that may require surgical fixes.

--Pressing on different sections of your feet on a regular basis will keep you familiar with the nerve sensations and health of your feet. If you were to develop numb spots, you'd have early knowledge and can consult with a podiatrist.

--Practice good nail care, using clean nail clippers to cut your nails in a straight line to prevent corners of nails from growing into the skin. If you do get an ingrown nail, see a doctor for care rather than try to cut or dig out the section. Such self-done medical procedures often lead to infections and pain. If you notice discoloration on any of your toenails, see a podiatrist for care.

--Avoid using commercial corn treatments and callous shavers, as they may cause cuts, infections and worsened symptoms. Check first with your doctor about home care products you may like to use in your foot care routine.

*What To Wear

--Wear doctor-approved supportive footwear that provides good arch support and proper padding, as well as a roomy toe box that prevents pressure on nerves and joints. Podiatrist Mallory Eisenman says that good fit is essential, since we have 26 bones in our feet, and continually jamming your feet into shoes that are too small can cause corns, calluses or bunions, which could lead to more serious problems -- such as bone spurs, joint pain and arthritis.

--Ask your doctor to recommend supportive shoe brands and styles, perhaps ordering custom pairs for you, and also to measure you for changes in your shoe size caused by aging.

--Use padded, removable insoles in your shoes. Podiatrist Erika Schwartz of the American Podiatric Medical Association says, "Cushioned soles can be added to your existing soles," to provide proper padding to the heel and ball of the foot. "Check APMA.org to find the brands and shoes types receiving the association's seal of approval.

--Avoid walking barefoot. Supportive shoes are essential.

--Consider orthotics. Schwartz says that custom orthotics may be prescribed by your doctor to keep your feet feeling their best.

*Lifestyle

--Exercise. Staying active strengthens the muscles and joints in your feet, as well as in the rest of your body. It makes you more fit, so consult with your doctor about the best exercises and activities for your health level.

--Avoid sitting with your knees crossed because it reduces circulation.

--Don't expose your feet to temperatures that are too low or too high. Warm footbaths are advisable for relaxation.

See your doctor if you experience pain, swelling of any joints, rashes, bunions, heel spurs, heat in your feet, or swelling of your feet or ankles, because these can be signs of serious conditions requiring urgent care, especially if you have high blood pressure, as circulation problems may be afoot, or arthritis may be looming for you.

If any foot problem arises, seek medical care and surgical intervention so that a chronic annoyance doesn't turn into a life-changing, debilitating problem.

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