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Care of your feet

One of the key factors to a happy and healthy old age is mobility. Being able to move around freely and comfortably is fundamental to one’s lifestyle, health and sense of well being. The important and fundamental role the feet play in maintaining mobility is often overlooked. ‘If your feet hurt you hurt all over’. Comfortable feet go a long way in encouraging a person’s activity. It is obvious that someone with painful feet will do no more walking than is absolutely necessary.

Footware

Shoe selection is most important for everyone of every age. Primarily, footwear is worn to protect the feet from injury as daily tasks etc. are carried out.

Shoes must fit the feet of the wearer. This is critical to avoid the many problems ill-fitting footwear can cause.

Fit Factors:

The shoe should be:

  • Long enough
  • Wide enough
  • Deep enough

If one foot is larger than the other, fit to the larger foot. An inner-sole can bridge the gap in the smaller shoe.

A survey in the USA showed that most people buy their shoes too small! Keep that in mind when you purchase your next pair.
Try to shop for shoes in the afternoon when the feet tend to be a little larger and always have your feet measured. Shoes should be fitted while you are standing, as this is when your body weight will influence position and fit.

Shoes need to be matched to the activity and purpose you’ll be undertaking. They all need to fit. For general use and for exercise walking there is a large range of ‘walking shoes’.

Features to look for include:

  • Lace up (firmer hold on the foot)
  • Thick rubber sole (cushioning and non-slip)
  • Leather upper (better ventilation)

Corns and calluses

Corns are due to pressure over a bony part of the foot. A common site is on the side of the small toe or over the tops of bent toes where shoes press. This is avoidable with a better shoe fit and perhaps some help from a podiatrist in protecting these areas.

Calluses are due to persistent rubbing/friction and usually occur on the balls of the feet. Most times this is from uneven weight-bearing across the feet and needs a podiatrist’s attention to deal with it and try to overcome the problem causing it.

Corn and calluses are symptoms - the cause needs to be identified and where possible removed. This is where you need to see a podiatrist. Over the counter ‘corn cures’ are usually inappropriate and are dangerous for anyone with poor blood circulation or diabetes.

Nails

Regular care of the nails is essential. They should be cut straight across and filed smooth to safeguard fragile skin as well as stockings. Problem nails, very thick nails and ingrown nails need to be attended by a podiatrist.

Bunions, hammertoes and generally out-of-shape feet

There’s a lot that can be done to keep people with distorted feet free from foot pain. For some people various pads and appropriate footwear may be enough and in more severe cases surgery may be needed.

People with foot problems such as these, need a very thorough assessment by a podiatrist who can often offer treatment and assist by suggesting the most useful alternatives.

Bunions are not usually shoe-caused but certainly require careful shoe selection once present.

Diabetes

The development of diabetes is more likely as people get older. Some people with diabetes have a poor blood circulation and reduced sensation in their feet. It is important to know how healthy your feet are as this determines how careful you need to be in caring for them.

Poor blood circulation means that any cuts etc. will not heal well and may become infected. Someone with poor blood flow to their feet needs to protect their feet very carefully so that injuries are avoided. Correctly fitting shoes will provide this protection. It is also necessary to attend to dry skin on the feet as this is more likely to crack and could allow infection.

The skin and the shoes are two very important protective barriers for people whose blood flow to the feet is reduced.

People with diabetes can lose the feeling in the feet that makes them vulnerable to painless injury e.g. stepping on a tack. Again footwear is important in protecting the feet and walking barefoot becomes a great risk.

Anyone with insensitive feet needs to visually check them once a day to ensure no injury has occurred. If you cannot see clearly, someone else needs to examine your feet.

Anyone who has diabetes needs to get their feet checked by a podiatrist or doctor so that they know how healthy their feet are or how careful they need to be. This should be done each year or as advised.

Many of the foot problems associated with diabetes can be avoided with better care.

N.B. Anyone who smokes is much more likely to have reduced blood circulation to their feet.

Useful resource:

Diabetes | Healthdirect

General care

Unfortunately many people neglect their feet and considering the importance they play in our mobility, independence and general health, such neglect is ill-advised.

Good hygiene is as essential for your feet as it is for the rest of your body:

  1. Wash well (usually as part of showering, bathing) especially between the toes
  2. Dry carefully and thoroughly with a towel (again especially between the toes)
  3. Use a moisturiser on dry heels and legs as needed
  4. Wool/cotton socks and shoes that fit with a leather upper will keep your feet protected and warm
  5. See a podiatrist if you have problems with your feet - in most cases these can be easily resolved

Useful contacts and resources

For more information about foot care contact:

Australian Podiatry Association SA
Suite 8, 15 Fullarton Rd, Kent ToENT TOWN SA 5067
Tel. (08) 8363 4144
Web www.podiatrysa.net.au  
A list of South Australian accredited podiatrists and a range of brochures about foot care and other topics are available on the website or from the office.

A list of accredited podiatrists is available on a national level on the website: www.findapodiatrist.org

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Seniors Information Service is supported by the Australian Government Department of Social Services. Visit the Department of Social Services website (www.dss.gov.au) for more information. Although funding for this service has been provided by the Australian Government, the material contained herein does not necessarily represent the views or policies of the Australian Government.