Chances are, your feet have taken you far in life—literally. So it's no wonder that, over time, the odds of developing foot problems can increase with age.
"Foot problems are common," says MaCalus Hogan, MD, an orthopedic surgeon at UPMC in Pittsburgh, PA. "The amount of load the foot takes from walking is anywhere from one to two times a person's body weight. And with running, it's three to eight times their body weight."
All that wear and tear on your feet can certainly add up over the course of a lifetime, he says, possibly contributing to problems like arthritis, tendinitis, and bunions.
Plus, pain that occurs in your foot can lead to pain in other areas of the body, too. "When you have alterations or abnormalities in the feet or pain in the feet, they can contribute to pain other joints," says Hogan. "When your gait is off, it throws off your hip and can potentially impact your back. You want to keep a pain-free gait."
Here are three of the most common foot problems in older adults.
Foot osteoarthritis: One of the most common foot problems in older adults is osteoarthritis of the foot, which is caused when the cartilage in the foot joints gradually wears down over time, says Hogan. When this occurs, the bones then rub together, triggering pain, stiffness, swelling, and more.
While there's no cure for arthritis, there are many treatments available that can help ease the pain, including physical therapy, medication, or surgery according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS).
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Tendinitis: Tendinitis in the foot or ankle occurs when the tendons—i.e., cords of tissue that connect your muscles to bones—become inflamed, causing pain and swelling, especially when you try to move the affected area.
Tendinitis can occur from overuse or from repetitive movements that take place over the course of a lifetime, says Hogan. The APMA says that rest and ice (applied for 15 minutes at a time, three to four times a day) can help ease the pain; if you're still hurting after a week, the organization recommends seeing a podiatrist. Common treatments include medication or custom shoe inserts.
Bunions: Bunions appear when the joint at the base of the big toe (the metatarsophalangeal, or MTP joint) moves out of place, causing the toe to bend outward, according to the APMA. This results in a painful lump on the inside of the foot that can make it difficult to wear shoes.
Bunions can form after years of putting pressure on the MTP joint. They're also more common in women, who can develop them after wearing too-tight shoes: "High heels put more pressure on the forefront of the foot, closer to the toes," says Hogan. "Over time, you can have problems later in life, such as bunions."
If your bunion is inflamed, the APMA recommends easing the swelling with ice packs, but if you're in pain or are concerned about it, call your doctor. He or she might recommend medication, orthotics, or surgery.
Be sure, too, to talk to your doctor about any foot pain or discomfort you may be experiencing.
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