7 Common Foot Problems in Older Adults

Foot-related issues and pain are prevalent among older adults. While conditions like osteoarthritis, bursitis and Morton’s neuroma can be painful, they can also lead to symptoms like exhaustion, frailty, balance challenges and decreased mobility. Fortunately, you can find relief with many strategies. Here are some common foot problems in older adults and how to treat them.

1. Fat Pad Atrophy

Everyone is born with fat on their heels and the balls of their feet. However, with age, these fat pads can atrophy. Without this cushioning, walking can lead to extreme discomfort, with force applied to unprotected parts of your feet.

Other symptoms can include:

  • Foot pain that worsens when wearing heels or walking on a hard, flat surface
  • Discomfort after spending long hours standing
  • Callus formation in the ball of the foot

If left untreated, the condition can lead to inflammation, micro-tears, edema in the foot or heel or fluid buildup. Fortunately, conservative treatment can successfully ease pain and prevent symptoms from worsening. You can alleviate pain by using shock absorbers like orthotics, heel cups or cushioned socks to lessen the impact of walking.

2. Morton’s Neuroma

Morton’s neuroma is a benign growth that causes pain in the ball of the foot — often between the third and fourth toes. The condition usually develops in response to irritation, trauma or excess pressure. The thickening and inflammation of nerve tissue leading to the toes can cause the following symptoms:

  • Feeling as though you are standing on a pebble in your shoe
  • Sharp pain in the ball of the foot
  • Stinging, burning, tingling or numbness in the affected toes

High-heeled or tight shoes can cause this condition to develop, with onset between 45 and 50 years old.

Many people find relief by choosing different footwear, using orthoses and taking anti-inflammatory medications and corticosteroid injections. If symptoms do not improve, you should have a health provider evaluate your pain. They might recommend surgery to remove the diseased portion of the nerve or release the tissue around it.

3. Cracked Heels

The soles of healthy feet are thick, supple and strong to protect you from the impact of walking and stepping on uneven surfaces and varying temperatures. However, neglected heels can dry out and crack over time. Skin elasticity can also decline with age. That’s why cracked heels are common problems with feet.

Cracked heels can hurt to walk on, and the skin can break more easily. Open wounds on the feet can lead to infection. Several methods restore cracked heels and prevent further damage, including:

  • Over-the-counter pain medications
  • Applying moisturizer day and night to alleviate dryness
  • Pumice stones to exfoliate and remove dead skin
  • Wearing socks with medicated creams to retain moisture

Eating a healthy, well-balanced diet can also promote fresh, radiant skin. For example, omega-3 fatty acids can help restore and revitalize skin tissue.

4. Bunions

Bunions are among the most prevalent foot problems for older adults, typically appearing as bony bumps beside the big toe on the inside edges of the foot. Bunions result from the first metatarsal shifting outward, making the head of the bone protrude near the big toe joint. Over time, added pressure can cause the big toe to move behind the second toe. A tailor bunion occurs when a bunion develops on the base of the little toe.

These painful deformities result from specific footwear, like high heels. Symptoms can include:

  • Swelling around the big toe
  • Redness
  • Warmth to the touch
  • Numbness
  • Pain, even in comfortable shoes
  • Limited mobility

While pain and symptoms can vary based on the person, a podiatrist can provide plenty of remedies to alleviate symptoms, such as shaving calluses, physical therapy or surgical options.

5. Flat Foot

Adult-acquired flat foot is a common cause of older adult foot pain. It results from damage to the posterior tibial tendon, which is the central tendon supporting the foot arch. The arch can collapse with years of abnormal strain and tears as the posterior tibial tendon weakens. Over time, older adults can experience flat feet as the collapsed arch becomes more rigid.

Symptoms can include:

  • Pain along the back of the calf to inside the foot where the tendon runs
  • Swelling and pain around the ankle
  • Pain while walking or standing
  • Bony bumps on the top or inside of the foot

This painful and sometimes debilitating condition can make it challenging to walk. Luckily, a podiatrist can help alleviate pain by providing braces or orthotics and other non-surgical treatments.

6. Bursitis

With age, our tendons become less elastic and tear much more easily. Bursitis is a condition caused by the fluid-filled sacs — called bursae — that cushion the bones, muscles and tendons becoming inflamed due to stress.

Bursitis typically increases in frequency with age, occurring in the heel and base of the big toe, with pain the most common symptom. You might feel it when stretching or extending the joint. It can cause symptoms like:

  • Pain and stiffness
  • Swollen and red joints
  • Limited range of motion

Treatment involves icing and resting the foot to protect it from further trauma. If pain doesn’t alleviate in a week, consider seeing a podiatrist. They can provide steroids or injections to lower inflammation and pain or physical therapy to strengthen muscles and increase your range of motion.

7. Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis is a degenerative disease where the cartilage in the joints wears away. It is one of the most common causes of red feet in older adults, typically accompanied by symptoms like:

  • Pain in movement
  • Tenderness and swelling in the affected joints
  • Difficulty putting pressure on the feet
  • Pain or swelling when at rest

While anyone can develop arthritis, it frequently occurs in people over 65. Depending on your symptoms and the cause, you might find relief with steroid medications injected into the joint, pain relievers, pads or arch support in your shoes, braces or canes, physical therapy or orthotics.

Contact Foot & Surgical Associates for Older Adult Foot Pain Relief

Many common foot problems link to aging, including osteoarthritis, bunions and cracked heels. These conditions can be painful and debilitating, making it crucial to practice at-home prevention. You should also see a podiatrist if your discomfort or mobility worsen. At Foot & Ankle Surgical Associates, we have extensive experience treating foot conditions in older adults. We can help you restore your range of mobility and return to the activities you enjoy the most.

We are now accepting new patients at all our locations. To schedule an appointment, call us today at 360-754-3338 or reach out to us online.

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