Have you ever noticed that your favorite sneakers don’t fit anymore and wondered why? Here’s the deal. Your feet aren’t exactly growing. But, over time, changes in the rest of the body affect the size of your feet. (And that often necessitates an upgrade in your shoe size.)
Of course, that's not the only way aging affects your foot health. In fact, as time marches on, your feet change in many ways. And that means you need to keep a closer watch on them. While maintaining more frequent check-ins with your friendly Houston podiatrist, naturally.
3 Ways Your Body Changes Can Affect Your Feet As You Age
With each passing year, your feet may change. Here are the three most noticeable effects you'll see.
Getting Older and Wider
As you age, your ligaments and tendons loosen. That causes your arches to collapse, widening your feet in the process. Additionally, the older you are, the more time you’ve had to develop corns or bunions. And both of those issues can make it more difficult for feet to fit into narrow shoes.
But wait, there are more changes you can look forward to. And they're caused by...
Weight gain can change your feet. When you're heavier, you put extra pressure on your base. And that can contribute to the flattening and widening of your feet (see above.)
Other changes can hurt your feet as well. Weight loss or simple aging can contribute to a thinning of the fat pads on the bottom of your feet. With less cushioning, your feet will absorb more of the impact of walking or running. And that may contribute to foot pain. So I now offer fat pad restoration in the office to help you keep walking comfortably.
Age-Related Health Problems that Hurt Your Feet
With age, you're more likely to develop arthritis. And your feet are certainly susceptible to this condition, since each foot contains 26 bones and 30 joints. Osteoarthritis is most common with age, and has no known cure. But rheumatoid arthritis (RA) can also cause trouble. Often, its effects first show up on your toes and ankles. In fact, close to 20% of people with RA first develop symptoms in their ankles, feet and toes.
What is RA?
It's actually an autoimmune disease, which means your body mistakes harmless substance for invaders. As a result, This form of arthritis causes painful swelling in your joints. While there's no RA cure, treatment can prevent or slow joint damage.
With this form of arthritis, your confused immune system attacks your ligaments and your bones. It may even cause organ damage. But, when it focuses on your bones and tissue, you'll develop pain and swelling. Your joints will also show signs of limited mobility.
How does RA affect your toes?
Because RA causes inflammation in your joint's protective lining, it can damage both the joints and surrounding tissues. When that happens, you may notice changes in your foot structure.
Foot and toe related RA symptoms include:
- Hammer toes, a condition where the joint of your toe buckles, causing a deformity.
- For some people, it may also cause a claw toe. (This is a painful condition that freezes your toes into a claw like shape. And that makes it harder to move.)
- Bunions commonly form with RA. Remember, a bunion forms beneath your big toe joint. And it develops when your bones shift out of place, putting pressure on the joint. But this can also happen when RA triggers joint inflammation.
- Corns (hard areas of thicker skin) also commonly form with RA. They may be painful to touch. And they can certainly make it harder to wear shoes and move around.
Now, you could develop any of these symptoms with simple aging. Or with other conditions. But if you notice several of these concerns, review whether you have other RA symptoms. Then make an immediate appointment to see your joint specialist.
Symptoms of RA in Your Feet
When you have RA, you're more susceptible to the conditions I just mentioned. But you may also notice one or more of these symptoms.
- Aching in your toe or ankle joints
- Morning stiffness that lasts all day
- Painful swelling in your toe or ankle joints
If you have RA, you'll probably experience these symptoms in both your feet. (Not just on one side.) So, if both of your feet hurt in these ways, there's a good chance you have an issue. And this is just one health concern that may affect your feet as you age.
Rising Diabetes Risk
As you get older, (especially if you've gained weight) your risk for developing a condition like diabetes also rises. That could spell trouble for your feet, since high blood sugar levels can compromise blood flow to your extremities.
Once your blood flow is off, or your nerves are damaged, you may lose feeling in your feet. And that makes even a hangnail a potentially life-threatening condition. Which is why you'll have to examine your feet everyday at home. And come in for quarterly in-office foot exams, in order to stay safe.
Like the rest of your body, your feet are susceptible to the wear-and-tear of aging. Just as you shouldn’t expect to wear the same pants size your whole life, you may need to go up a shoe size or two as you get older. Similarly—you wouldn’t wait until you’re 60 to see your doctor for your physical. So you really shouldn’t wait until you experience age-related foot pain to see me regularly.
Also, it’s important to maintain our relationship even in good times. Why? Not because I'm needy. But because I want to establish a baseline of health for you. That way, I can determine any red flags for future problems.
If you find that your feet are starting to give you pain, don't wait for it to get worse. Contact Houston podiatrist Dr. Andrew Schneider for an immediate appointment.