What Are Common Foot Problems in Older Adults?

By Steven Gershman DPM  /  October 22, 2018 Blog Home

Foot problems are a natural part of the aging process. They arise from the normal daily wear and tear of joints as well as thinning skin that becomes more fragile due to dryness and a loss of elasticity.

We typically begin to see foot problems in our 40s and 50s, with some of the problems getting more severe or numerous as we age. Below is a list of the most common foot problems seen when we age, as well as a look at some treatment options for each condition.

  • 1. Arthritis

  •   Arthritis is often a reality of aging. Osteoarthritis is what we think of as wear-and- tear arthritis: that inevitable consequence of years of stress on the joints. The ankle joint, subtalar joint, and the big toe joint (first MTPJ) are three joints that frequently develop arthritis.
  • Symptoms associated with and hammer toes and bunions may worsen over the time due to the progression of arthritis within those toe joints.
  • Another joint problem that can develop in older adults is gouty arthritis. Gout is a metabolic disease that often manifests as intense arthritis symptoms at the big toe joint.
  • 2. Circulatory Changes and Foot and Ankle Swelling

  •   One of the most common foot and ankle problems associated with aging is swelling. The cause of the swelling can be elusive, especially if it's not associated with an injury. Leg vein problems are a common cause of swelling and usually occur in a single limb at a time. Cardiovascular disease, certain medications, and hormonal changes are possible causes of swelling that occur in both limbs.
  • 3. Bunions

  •   Bunions are a result of years of added pressure on the balls of the feet that forces the toes out of alignment and eventually causes the big toe joint to stick out.This creates a not only unattractive bump, but a painful one as well. Women who wear pointy-toed shoes frequently and for a long period of time commonly suffer from this foot problem.
  • Treatment options vary depending upon the severity of the bunion and the amount of pain it causes, but include switching to roomy shoes with a wide toe box such that alleviate pressure on bunions, using OTC non-medicated bunion pads, taking pain medication, applying ice to the bunions after a long day of standing, wearing padded inserts, and as a last resort, surgery.
  • 4. Hammertoes

  •   Hammertoes are a deformity of the toe in which the muscle or ligament surrounding the toe joint is imbalanced. This causes the middle joint of the toe to bend and get stuck in a claw-like position.The bad news is that without proper treatment, hammertoe will get progressively worse and might require surgery to fix it.
  • The good news is that it can be treated with simple exercises such as picking up marbles with the afflicted toe, stretching the toe manually several times a day, and wearing footwear with low heels and a deep toe box, like Orthofeet shoes for hammertoes that are designed with special technology that helps alleviate the problems caused by hammertoes. If the pain gets very sever, your podiatrist can use a cortisone injection for pain relief. Surgery is the last option and is only considered when the hammertoe cannot be corrected non-surgically.
  • 5. Morton’s Neuroma

  •   Morton’s neuroma is caused by a thickening of the tissue around a nerve leading to the toes. Neuromas most often appear between the 3rd and 4th toes and can be extremely painful. Severity of symptoms will determine treatment, such as orthotic insoles with arch supports and shoe pads to help reduce pressure on the nerve, steroid injections, and as a last resort, surgery such as decompression surgery or removal of the nerve. 
  • 6. Heel Pain

  •   Heel pain is another common foot problem that generally begins in the 40s and 50s. One of the most common causes of heel pain, plantar fasciitis results from inflammation of the thick strand of tissue running along the bottom of the foot that connects the heel bone to the toes. It may also correspond with an increase in physical activity or a change in footwear. Initially, the pain starts off in the morning but then passes fairly easily. As the condition worsens, every step can become painful.
  • Treatment options include anti-inflammatory medication, icing and stretching the heel, physical therapy that stretches the plantar fascia and Achilles tendon, steroid injections, orthotic inserts, or orthotic shoes.
  • 7. Calluses

  •  Calluses, which are not to be confused with corns, are a result of too much pressure or friction on the bottom of the foot. Ill-fitting shoes are a common culprit for this foot problem. Frequently wearing shoes or sandals without socks can also cause calluses. Generally, calluses are treated by gently scraping and/or trimming the build-up of hard tissue. Wearing properly fitted, supportive shoes with good shock absorbing soles can also help alleviate pressure on the calluses and prevent future build-up.
  • 8. Corns

  •  Unlike calluses, corns usually form on the top of the feet or toes over a bone or joint. Corns are typically dense and have even greater thickness at their center. They can cause discomfort and make walking or running with shoes uncomfortable. There are several different types of corns, but most can be treated in the same way. Treatment options include wearing better fitting shoes such as shoes with a wide toe box to minimize pressure on toe joints, using moleskins to cushion the sore and reduce direct friction on the skin, wearing good orthotics, which when fitted with the proper shoe, can help redistribute weight and alleviate pressure, trimming the thick areas of the corn (this should only be done by a professional) and as a last resort surgery.
  • 9. Degenerative Diseases

  •    Certain degenerative diseases, such as osteoarthritis can start to manifest in your 40s. Symptoms include pain, stiffness and tenderness in the joints accompanied by loss of flexibility and possibly a grinding sensation during movement. Osteoarthritis requires special treatment, so a doctor should be contacted as soon as possible. 
  • 10. Achilles Tendinitis

  •    Achilles tendinitis is an overuse injury and most commonly occurs in runners who have suddenly started running longer distances and/or more frequently. “Weekend warriors” (middle-aged people who run, play tennis or basketball only on the weekends) also frequently get this foot problem. The pain is due to an injury of the Achilles tendon – the band of tissue connecting the calf muscles of the lower, back leg to the heel bone. The good news is that it’s fairly easy to treat.
  • Anyone suffering from Achilles tendinitis should begin by reducing the activity levels and stretching and strengthening the calf muscles.
  • Additional treatments include icing the area after exercising or when experiencing pain, elevating the foot to reduce swelling, taking anti-inflammatory medication and wearing shoes with a soft padded collar to relieve pressure on the back of the heel and alleviate pain.
  • 11. Diabetes

  •    With diabetes, risk increases with age and patients who have diabetes often experience neuropathy, or decreased sensitivity to pain.
  • Consequently, injuries can go undetected and result in infection and a diabetic ulcer. In addition, poor blood flow and oxygenation to the legs can affect the healing process. It is critical that diabetics receive proper care for all aspects of their illness including diabetic neuropathy. The doctor may suggest special shoes designed specifically for the diabetic foot.
  • 12. Nail Fungus

  •    Fungal infections occur as a result of too much fungi under, in, or on the nail. Moist, warm environments are where fungi thrive. Fungal infections are most effectively treated with oral medication prescribed by a doctor.
  • Topical creams are not usually recommended simply because they are rarely effective. For diabetics who have a nail fungus, it’s especially important to see a doctor, as a nail fungus can cause serious complications later on if not treated.
  • 13. Clogged Sweat Glands or Parakeratosis

  •    While perspiration is an important skin function that helps regulate body temperature, sweat glands that become clogged can cause problems. Parakeratosis is a general term applied to different skin conditions that block sweat glands. The bumps parakeratosis cause can sometimes be confused with corns, but they are two entirely different problems.
  • The bumps created by this skin condition can make walking and even wearing shoes very painful. In addition, the lesions can later become cancerous if not treated. To treat parakeratosis, certain medications might be prescribed and the lesions excised. Managing the problem includes limiting sun exposure, washing your feet thoroughly and regularly and wearing soft, breathable shoes.