the human foot
and the effects of aging

The human foot consists of 26 bones, 33 joints, 19 muscles, and 107 ligaments. All these parts work together to give it the ability to balance and stabilize our body, absorb shocks as well as move in a variety of ways and on different surfaces.

With so many parts in one small area, there is a higher likelihood of problems, especially as we age and our body begins wearing out.

The aging foot

Like the rest of our body, our feet deteriorate as we age. Skin becomes drier and less elastic, toenails thicken, muscles weaken, and bones become more brittle and more prone to breakage.

Gravity has a great impact on our feet. They bear the weight of the entire body as well as added weight when we walk, and up to 3 times our weight when we run. All this weight bearing eventually flattens the aging human foot making it wider and longer.

The padding on heels and balls of our feet that cushioned and absorbed shocks becomes thinner making underlying bones and ligaments more susceptible to pain and injury. Loss of padding can cause corns and calluses to form and cause painful conditions such as plantar fasciitis - inflammation along the heel and arch of the foot or metatarsalgia - inflammation along the ball of the foot.

Years of repeated movement of joints, especially the big toe joint, can wear down cartilage. If the cartilage is lost, there is bone to bone contact at the joint. This can cause pain, inflammation, and deformity. This is known as arthritis, which is more prone to happen when joints are misaligned. Misalignment can occur from a past injury to the foot, ill fitting shoes, high arches or flat feet.

Bunions are very prevalent among baby boomers, especially on the side or on top of the big toe. These conditions are referred to medically as hallux valgus and hallux rigidus. A bunion is a deformity of the bone that has formed at a joint and can cause pain and limit movement of the joint. Very often, bunion surgery is required.

These changes in the foot anatomy also tend to effect our balance and gait which in turn can cause back aches, hip aches and other skeletal problems.

Aching feet can often be a sign of other ailments. If you suffer from swelling, pain or other unusual symptoms, see your physician to evaluate if another condition is at the root of the pain.

Caring for mature feet

Properly fitting shoes may seem too obvious of a solution to painful feet, but the fact remains that most baby boomers wear ill fitting shoes.

Chances are your shoe size has gone up at least half a size, if not a whole size in the past 30 years. Your feet haven't actually grown, they've stretched in length as well as width. Look for shoes that give support and are cushioned at the heel as well as at the widest part of your feet, just below the toes, to make up for the padding you've lost.

Exercise is as vital for your feet as it is for every other part of your body. Choose the correct shoes for the activity and make sure they fit well and are comfortable. Blood circulation is very important for your feet, so don't sit for long periods of time. When sitting, put your feet up when possible and avoid crossing your legs.

Hygiene.  Toenails should be trimmed regularly, cutting straight across. Massage feet lightly after your bath/shower using a moisturizer. I recommend jojoba oil. Aging feet are more susceptible to athlete's foot and nail fungus, so be sure to dry between each toe and change socks often.

Orthotics can improve human foot function. When fitted correctly they can relieve fatigue and discomfort associated with aging feet.

Foot reflexology is a natural healing technique that is based on the principle that there are reflex points in the feet that correspond to every organ in the body. It uses massage and pressure points in the feet to help increase circulation, relieve tension in the body and mind and help all body parts function more efficiently. It's not a cure all, but it is a very safe method to provide relief for aches and pains in the feet and the entire body.

A reflexology foot map, like the one pictured below shows the areas on the human foot as they correspond to the human body.

reflexology foot map

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