Looking Into the Future of Your Feet
Your feet are meant to last you a lifetime—year after year, decade after decade. Here’s an amazing fact you might not know: your typical octogenarian has walked enough miles to circumnavigate the globe four times over!
See, when feet are healthy and well taken care of, they can do incredible things. But the most incredible thing they do is something that far too many of us take for granted. They keep you moving, jumping, laughing, playing, and enjoying life to the fullest.
At least, that’s what they’re supposed to do. When feet don’t work—when they’re too deformed, or too painful, or too weakened by poor balance or neuropathy—your whole world becomes a lot smaller. Suddenly all those weekend camping trips, evening runs, and holiday shopping trips slip away, replaced by more days cooling your aching heels on a couch somewhere.
By not taking care of your feet—or not seeking help when you first notice an injury or condition—you potentially lose out on years or decades of healthy, active living.
That’s what we’re here to help you avoid.
We’re not just interested in how your feet are treating you today. It’s also our job to consider the future of your feet, and help you make sure it’s as healthy and happy as possible.
And that’s true for folks at any age. We’ve built one of the most advanced and respected pediatric podiatry programs in Southern California because we want every child to grow into healthy, active adults with healthy feet.
For adults—the main focus of this particular blog—the thinking is the same.
Maybe you’re still in your 30s or 40s, and just starting to notice a bunion, or you’re finding it harder and harder to get through your workday or finish your run without aching or pain. Or maybe you have diabetes, and are just beginning to feel strange, tingling sensations every now and again in your toes.
This is a critical time for you. You’re coming up fast on a fork in the road.
Sure, your feet may not be bothering you much today. But what kind of feet—and what kind of lifestyle—do you want to have 5, 10, and even 20 years down the road?
If you take the appropriate action now, the future of your feet (and by extension, you) could be a lot healthier and more active than if you don’t.
Let’s give you some examples.
Do you have diabetes or high blood sugar (prediabetes)?
Diabetes and high blood sugar are closely linked with a condition called peripheral neuropathy. Over time, the symptoms may progress from intermittent tingling in the toes to sharp and stabbing pain to, in the end, total numbness.
More importantly, though, is that if you can’t feel anything going on with your feet, you not only are more likely to fall and hurt yourself, but you’re also less likely to realize when your feet have been injured or cut. And since circulation to the feet is also typically poor in those with advanced peripheral neuropathy, those injuries may become infected to the point where amputation is the only remaining solution.
The unfortunate truth is that almost everybody who develops diabetes (especially earlier in life) will also develop peripheral neuropathy to some extent. The damage to your nerves is cumulative over the years.
But did you notice the key phrase there? “To some extent.” You actually have a lot of control over this part, just by living right and treating your feet with care:
- Eat a healthy diet.
- Get plenty of exercise.
- Check and manage your sugar regularly to keep it within a healthy range.
- Visit our office every year for a diabetic foot checkup.
- Wear your diabetic shoes and/or orthotics as directed by your podiatrist.
- Check your feet every day for injuries.
- Seek help from our team immediately if you notice a cut, scrape, sore, or other issue with your feet that isn’t getting better.
None of these items are particularly difficult, or particularly time consuming. And yet doing them faithfully can really be the difference between keeping your feet healthy enough for vigorous activity for decades, or losing them entirely in your 50s or 60s due to an amputation.
Are your feet slowly changing their shape?
Foot deformities can occur at any age. Here, we’re talking about conditions like:
- Bunions: A bony bump starts growing along the inside of your foot, at the joint where the big toe meets the rest of the foot. At the same time, the big toe starts drifting in the opposite direction.
- Bunionettes: Like bunions, but on the pinky toe.
- Hammertoes: One or more of the smaller toes remain “stuck” in a contracted position. The bent joint might start out fairly flexible, but become more painfully locked in place as time goes on.
- Flat feet: As you get older, injuries may weaken the ligaments and tendons responsible for supporting your arch, causing it to flatten.
(We’re just giving you the short version here, but please feel free to click the links above if you’d like to learn more about any of these conditions.)
Now, these are different conditions, but they share a few things in common (aside from just changing the shape of your feet, of course). On the negative side, they’re progressive (meaning they get worse over time), and they don’t really get “better” unless you reconstruct the foot surgically.
However, you may well be able to slow the rate at which these conditions get worse, and keep them from actually causing any pain or lifestyle difficulties as long as possible, simply by taking care of your feet.
(They also tend to run in families, so if parents or grandparents had foot deformities, you should be especially motivated to take care of your feet even before symptoms appear.)
Conservative treatment options vary depending on which foot deformity you have and how severe it is, of course. So the most important bit of all-purpose advice we have to give is that you see us immediately once you notice the problem forming.
Make no mistake: your deformity will get worse, and even if it isn’t painful now, it will be one day—if you let it. So invest in your future and book that appointment with a foot specialist!
Other common consequences of aging feet
Even if you take excellent care of your feet all through your lifetime, you should be prepared for some changes as you get older.
Can you continue to live an active and independent life with healthy fee through your golden years? Yes, you can. Absolutely.
But at the same time, your feet aren’t going to work like they’re still 20 when you’re 60 or 70.
Some common foot changes as we get older include:
- Slower circulation in the feet. This is a natural consequence of aging, though it’s made worse by things like diabetes or smoking. Injuries take a little longer to heal, toenails grow more slowly, and you have a harder time fighting off infections like fungal toenails, athlete’s foot, or warts. (This doesn’t mean you will get these problems, of course—just that you’re at higher risk.)
- Dry skin. Your feet don’t have as many healthy, active oil glands operating at peak efficiency in your later years compared to your early years. So skin is much more prone to drying out, cracking, and generally being itchy and irritating. Regular use of moisturizers can really help manage this issue.
- Arthritis. Ankles, toes, and even the heels (specifically the subtalar joint, where the heel and ankle bones meet) are among the foot joints most commonly affected by osteoarthritis—the “wear and tear” condition of joints losing their cartilage gradually over time.
Again, while we can’t turn back the hands of time, we can help you manage these (and other) age-related foot conditions successfully so that you can maintain your lifestyle as long as possible.
But you must be the one to take initiative! You see and feel your feet every day. If they’re starting to bother you, don’t wait for the worst-case scenario to occur.
Instead, give Southern California Foot & Ankle Specialists a call at (949) 364-9255 and schedule an appointment with one of our doctors. Or, if you wish, you can request an appointment online via our handy contact form.