How Aging Affects the Feet

Seniors represent one of our Clinic’s special client groups, and they can be fun to deal with once you can appreciate their particular needs and circumstances. Because of our diverse clientele age-wise, and the challenges caregivers and relatives face because of lack of awareness, I thought it opportune to focus on this topic, so that greater understanding could be had as to what to expect, and how to treat with it, as your loved ones transition into their golden years.

Taking good care of oneself is a lifelong process, and also the best way to ensure good health into our senior years. But when it comes to health, we usually don’t think of our feet until something goes wrong. Given the amount of stress we put on our feet in a lifetime, it’s easy to see why certain foot problems seem unavoidable. In addition to wear and tear, there are natural changes that occur with the aging process which affect foot health.

Common Skin Problems

Skin changes, which gradually crop up with aging, include: decreased skin cell turnover; decreased collagen production; and thinning of skin, with a decrease of the fatty layer beneath. These changes bring about several typical problems, specifically for the feet, which deal with extra stress from weight-bearing. Dry skin, especially on the soles of the feet, is a problem that may require daily application of a moisturiser to prevent cracking. The decreased fatty layer beneath the skin means reduced cushioning on the sole of the foot, which also contributes to cracked heels and calluses due to additional stress on the skin. Further, the decreased fat pad on the sole of the foot may give rise to an increased sensitivity to pain, the result of that loss of cushioning.

Toenail Changes

Toenails usually become thicker and more brittle with age, making them more difficult to cut. One reason that nails become thicker is because their growth slows over time, mostly because of hormonal changes in the body. Other causes of toenail thickening include hypothyroidism, and inadequate circulation to the limbs from peripheral artery disease (PAD). Onychomycosis, which is a fungal infection of the toenails, is another common cause of toenail thickening. This is an area that the Clinic addresses and is in high demand for.

Orthopaedic Problems

Many people notice that, as the years go by, their shoe size or shape of their feet changes. It’s not uncommon for someone to experience an increase in shoe size by a half-size or more as they age. This happens because of the changes that occur in the body’s ligaments and tendons through the aging process. Tendons and ligaments gradually lose strength and their ability to “spring back,” which can amount to a decrease in arch height of the feet (fallen arches), increasing foot length slightly, and requiring an increase in shoe size. Age related tendon and ligament changes may also increase the risk of injury such as tendonitis, tendon tears, or muscle strains.


Arthritis is another reality of aging. Osteoarthritis is what we think of as wear-and-tear arthritis, that inevitable consequence of years of stress on the joints. The ankle joint and the big toe joint are three joints that frequently develop arthritis. Symptoms associated with bunions and hammer toes may worsen over the time due to the progression of arthritis within those toe joints. Another joint problem that can develop in older adults is gouty arthritis. Gout is a metabolic disease that often manifests as intense arthritis symptoms at the big toe joint.

Circulatory Changes

One of the most common foot and ankle problems of aging is edema (swelling). The cause of the swelling can be elusive, especially if it’s not associated with an injury. Leg vein problems are a common cause of swelling and usually occur in a single limb at a time. Cardiovascular disease, kidney problems, certain medications, and hormonal changes are possible causes of swelling that occur in both limbs.

One sure occurrence in life that we don’t have total control over is the aging process. Plastic surgery, botox, and all the other cosmetic solutions are temporary and certainly can’t solve all problems. So we need to be proactive and take care of our bodies; no one can know your body better than you…read the signs and act on it! For those under your care, schedule periodic appointments with their doctor/podiatrist/chiropodist/foot health practitioner to keep them in the best possible shape.

 Your feet mirror your general health . . . cherish them!

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