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Taking Care of Your Aching Feet

separator You can be feeling wonderfully healthy and vigorous—-no heart problems, pretty good vision, good hearing, little if any arthritis —but if your feet are giving you trouble, it has a profound effect. Foot problems become more common as you age, especially if you've led an active lifestyle. After a while, the pounding of aerobics and running and even of long long walks can take a toll on your feet.

Stylish shoes that don't provide comfort or support can also wreak their own havoc. Women of all ages have four times as many foot problems as men. Experts say that high heeled shoes are one of the main culprits.

According to the U.S. National Center for Health Statistics, problems with the lower extremities are a leading cause of limited activity for older people.

First, take preventive care

If you'd like to avoid foot problems, or keep the problems you have from getting worse, here are some things you can do: .

  • Put your feet up when you're sitting whenever you can
  • Have foot massages
  • Try to remember not to cross your legs for long periods of time when you're sitting
  • Wear shoes that fit well. Your shoe size can change as you age, so don't be surprised if you used to wear a seven and now you wear an 8. Wear shoes that are comfortable. As you age, you lose some of the fat in your feet that makes a natural padding. If your shoes rub your feet uncomfortably, or press on tender parts, it's time to get rid of those shoes. Make sure you have plenty of room in the toe box. There should be 3/8 to 1/2 inch between your longest toe and the end of each shoe--when you're standing. The ball of your foot should fit comfortably into the widest part of the shoe

Common foot problems

If your feet have been bothering you but you're not sure what's wrong, visit your doctor or a podiatrist. If you've been wondering what your foot symptoms might be, here are some common conditions and ways you can treat them at home. If the pain doesn't improve or becomes worse, home remedies aren't enough and it's time to see your doctor.

  • Bunions. These firm bumps at the base of your big toe can become inflamed, swollen and very painful. You can develop a bunion because of heredity or even from wearing uncomfortable, pointy-toed shoes. To care for bunions yourself, wear shoes that have wide, comfortable toe boxes to remove the daily pressure shoes place on a bunion. If your bunion is inflamed, apply ice. Wear bunion pads, which can protect the bunion when you're wearing shoes. Avoid high heels.
  • Hammertoes. These form when the toe contracts, giving it the appearance of a hammer if you look at it from the side. Hammertoes can be a result of heredity, trauma, arthritis and wearing shoes that are too tight in the toe. For relief, apply a commercial pad around the toe. Wear shoes that have plenty of room in the toe box. Apply ice packs if the toe becomes inflamed. Avoid wearing high heels.
  • Plantar Fasciitis. This inflammation of tissue in the bottom of the heel causes pain that's usually at its worst when you wake up. Resting it for a while may help, as can wearing shoes with better cushioning in the heel. Custom-made orthotics that support your arch and keep your foot in better alignment can also help. Your doctor may also recommend a night splint that keeps your foot in a certain position or steroid injections.
  • Neuroma. This benign growth of nerve tissue, often between the third and fourth toes, can cause severe, burning pain, and often tingling or numbness. High arches or flat feet can cause a neuroma, as can wearing high heeled shoes. Thick soled shoes with wide toe boxes can help, as can over-the-counter shoe pads. Sometimes, just rubbing the place that's hurting can bring a lot of relief.

Some foot problems indicate a more serious condition

If you notice the following symptoms, see your doctor. They could indicate symptoms of diabetes, circulation problems or other serious conditions that need treatment:

—Changes in the color of your skin

—Increases in your skin temperature

—Ankle or foot swelling

—Open sores that heal slowly or not at all

—Bleeding corns and calluses

—Ingrown and fungal toenails

Remember this—you don't have to grin and bear the pain that develops from common foot problems. Change the types of shoes you wear, give your feet some TLC, apply padding and do what you can to make your feet feel better. If problems persist, see your doctor for additional solutions.

American Podiatric Medical Association; National Institute on Aging; The New York Times, "Aching Feet to Aging Feet to Aching Feet," 14 November 2006.
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