Vitality - Healthy Aging NewsletterSpring 2011

Pampered Feet Are Happy Feet

Our feet are extraordinary. Each foot has 26 bones and 33 joints, and if we live long enough, it's said they may carry us the equivalent of at least two times around the earth.

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Yet we stuff them into shoes that are too narrow or too small, or shuffle around the house in sloppy old slippers. We need to remember that older feet require more, not less, attention because they change as we age. "Our arches don't support us like they used to, bone density deteriorates, and our natural shock absorbers — the fatty pads on the heels and balls of our feet — get thinner," says Douglas Monson, DPM, Group Health Physicians podiatrist at Riverfront Medical Center in Spokane. "This makes us more prone to stress fractures and falls, and we may find it uncomfortable to walk on hard surfaces."

We can't reverse these changes, but we can make our feet more comfortable and prevent problems with proper care. Check your feet often. Wash them with warm water, pat them dry (between the toes, too), and apply a thick foot cream. Emollients that contain lanolin, coconut oil, shea butter, or squalene are good choices.

Trim your nails straight across or slightly curved. If you can't reach them, try long-handled toenail clippers or schedule a pedicure at your local beauty salon.

Some senior and community centers also provide routine foot care for a reasonable fee. For locations, call the Group Health Resource Line. If you have diabetes, file your toenails with an emery board to prevent nicks, and protect your feet with seamless socks, closed shoes, or diabetic sandals. Avoid adhesive bandages, Epsom salts, and antiseptics; and never self-treat for calluses, corns, or plantar warts.

Dr. Monson recommends checking your feet at least once a week — daily if you have diabetes — or asking your doctor for help if this proves too difficult. "See your doctor if you have bulging in your joints, redness or soreness, chronic calluses, pain of any kind, numbness, swelling, or sores on your legs or feet that aren't healing," he says.

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