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Turn Back The Clock on Foot Problems

 Foot & Ankle Center of Illinois September 01, 2012

By John M. Sigle, DPM, FACFAS, Foot & Ankle Center of Illinois

Not too long ago many of us thought that turning 60 meant entering your twilight years, retiring from a career, taking up a hobby, babysitting the grandkids, and hoping for your health to hold out until you reached the golden years. However, as the baby boomers morph into senior citizens, they are ushering in a totally new definition of what old age really is, and reinventing this new stage of life. Now it’s common to see celebrities like Christie Brinkley, Susan Victoria Lucci, and Chuck Norris on exercise commercials perhaps suggesting that 60 is starting to become the new 40. Even our favorite blockbuster stars like Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis, and Harrison Ford are resuming their old action hero roles. Hence, it seems as though a whole wave of people in their 60s, 70s, and 80s are certainly not ready to trade in their active and more youthful roles for walkers and wheelchairs.

The baby boomers are becoming the driving force behind this movement. As the population moves into their encore years, they are embracing this period of time and trying to live longer and healthier lives.  Unfortunately, as we get older so do our feet. Because the typical person has walked over 75,000 miles by time they turn 65, foot problems are often the first signs that we are aging. The fountain of youth is not out of reach for people with foot and ankle problems. It is possible to turn back the clock to improve the condition of your feet. The most important way to do this is to have a podiatrist provide a thorough evaluation of your feet and to get you on the right course of action.

As we age, there are many predisposing conditions such as flat feet, pronation or supination, peripheral neuropathy, osteoporosis, arthritis, diabetes, obesity, foot trauma, and vascular problems that make an individual more susceptible to foot problems. However, restoring the healthy condition of your feet may be as easy as giving your feet a little tender loving care to protect them from any further damage and assault, practicing good hygiene, knowing what shoes or foot products to purchase, or altering your exercise and fitness activities. New non-invasive laser technologies are available that are incredibly effective at restoring the beauty of your feet and eliminating aches and pain. Other new products and surgical remedies are available to restore your mobility and to relieve pain.

Unfortunately, unresolved foot and ankle problems may lead to a series of consequences such as pain, less movement, weight gain, unnatural gait, imbalance, falls, sprains, and broken bones. Before we can reverse the clock to achieve more youthful feet, it is necessary to recognize the signs of aging. Here are some of the more common foot problems associated with aging and self-help tips:

  • Increased Foot Size: The length and width of your feet actually expand as the ligaments, tendons, and muscles become weaker and thinner.

    Self-Help Tips: Select the proper shoes. Measure your feet each time you try on new shoes, stand when they are being measured, and buy shoes at the end of the day when your feet are swelling at their maximum. When you try on shoes, take a test walk to gage comfort and fit. Select a comfortable shoe over a fashionable one and avoid purchasing shoes that feel tight. If you have corns, bunions, arthritis of the toes, or hammertoes, buy shoes with a deep and wide toe box to keep them from pressing on your sensitive toes. 
  • Skin Breakdown: Skin loses its ability to produce sweat and oil with age and becomes thinner. Dry skin often results in itchiness, discoloration, peeling and flaking, and thickening and hardness (especially around the heels). Cracks and fissures can make it painful to walk and cracked skin is more prone to fungal infections and bacteria.

    Self-Help Tips: Exfoliate dead skin and use a moisturizer to penetrate deeply into the skin. Select a moisturizer that will soften and hydrate to protect your skin from drying further. Avoid the use of nylon and rayon socks.
  • Nail Deterioration: The primary changes that occur to the toenails as we age are related to reduced blood flow to the toes, trauma to the nails, and fungal infections. Seniors are extremely susceptible to toenail fungus.

    Self-Help Tips: Consult with your podiatrist to determine what is causing your nails to change and for the appropriate treatment options. The primary treatment options for toenail fungus include the use of topical drugs, oral drugs, or laser treatments. Laser treatments are the most effective in eliminating nail infections and restoring clear nails. The laser light passes through the nail and surrounding tissue. The laser light is absorbed by the pigment in the fungi, which causes the pigment to heat. The heat kills or damages the fungal organism allowing the nail to grow normally. The Genesis Plus Laser produced by Cutera, is considered to be the best of class. It is FDA approved and treatments are painless, quick, and effective.

  • Loss of Fat Pads: The fat pads in the bottom of the foot become thinner and less effective as a cushion or shock absorber.  Consequently, they do a poor job of dissipating shock waves, absorbing impacts, dampening vibrations, and avoiding torsional sheer stresses.  Fat pad pathology is a common cause of planter foot difficulties, mobility limitations, inflammation, and pain.

    Self-Help Tips: If you have a thin fat pad under the ball of your feet or metatarsalgia (pain under the fat pad), make sure your shoes fit properly and use a custom orthotic.  Wear supportive shoes and avoid walking barefoot. Try to moisturize the balls of your feet often to avoid dry skin and calluses from developing. If you participate in high-impact activities such as running, dancing, or jumping, change your workout to include other non-load bearing activities such as swimming, biking, or stair gliding.

  • Arch Collapse: When the ligaments that support the foot arch become thinner and weaker, the foot flattens and is not able to properly transmit loads and forces. A collapsed arch can have dire consequences on other parts of the body, particularly the knees, hips, and lower back and increase the likelihood of developing arthritis. 

    Self-Help Tips: A collapsed arch requires shoes that provide ample support and custom orthotics are recommended. Avoid high-impact activities. Excessive weight gain and activity are often contributing factors for a collapsed arch. If this applies to you, commit to a weight loss program and scale back on high–impact activities.
  • Ligament and Tendon Deterioration: The weakening of ligaments and tendons in the foot will not hold bones and joints together in proper alignment. As the foot becomes weaker, flatter, and more flexible, the ankle has a tendency to roll inward and the foot to turn outward. Consequently, the likelihood of sprains, tendon tears, and abnormal alignment are increased.  This condition also leads to hammer toes, bone spurs, corns, and bunion, loss of balance, and abnormal gait problems.  Improper joint functioning may also lead to stress fracture.

    Self-Help Tips: Shoes that provide stability are essential if you have weak ligaments and tendons. Avoid wearing high heels or at least reduce the frequency of use. Use custom orthotics to stabilize your feet, to provide arch support, and to provide better shock absorption. Physical rehabilitation therapy is recommended. The MLS Laser produced by Cutting Edge is now available to reduce pain, relieve inflammation, and restore mobility. MLS treatment uses specific wavelengths of light that have anti-inflammatory, anti-edema effect on tissues that are exposed to the laser. Painful conditions accompanied by swelling or inflammation benefit from this technology. Photons of laser energy penetrate deeply into tissue and accelerate cellular reproduction and growth. As a result of exposure to the MLS Laser, cells of tendons, ligaments, and muscles repair themselves faster. Basically, laser energy kick-starts the healing process and speeds recovery. The MLS Laser is FDA approved, safe, and effective. If pain and discomfort are intolerable and mobility is hampered, consult with your podiatrist about surgical options to correct hammertoes, bone spurs, bunions, joint repair, and structural alignment.
  • Structural Deterioration: As the integrity of the ligaments, tendons, joint capsules, and cartilages begins to deteriorate, toes and feet become crooked, lumpy, and bumpy.

    Self-Help Tips: Try to keep your feet comfortable if you have crooked toes and feet. Select proper fitting shoes and wear shoes with a larger toe box or special therapeutic shoes. Wear custom orthotics to address biomechanical deformities and to provide added support. Make sure to have corns and calluses treated properly by your podiatrist to avoid infection and discomfort. Although surgery is may improve the appearance of your feet, cosmetic surgery in usually not recommended.

For those of you who are aspiring to feel 20 years younger, it is essential to become more aware of your feet and to care for them properly. Fortunately, new advancements in medical products, therapies, and surgical options are available to address a wide range of problems. Consult with Dr. Sigle at the Foot & Ankle Center of Illinois at 2921 Montvale Dr., Springfield to turn back the clock of time on your foot problems or call 217-787-2700.

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 Foot & Ankle Center of Illinois| September 01, 2012
Keywords:  SHC

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