"Exercise, exercise, exercise" has become the battle cry of many Older Americans. If they are not hearing it from their doctors, they are imposing an exercise regime on themselves. Exercise is a good thing, but for many older people their spirit is willing but their feet are weak.
According to the U.S. National Center for Health Statistics, impairment of the lower extremities is a leading cause of activity limitation in older people. Foot problems can also lead to knee, hip and lower back pain that undermine mobility just as effectively.
"Older people are much more active than they have been in the past," says Philip Radovic, DPM, an Orange County podiatric surgeon, who is a member of the American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons. "As a result, they place a higher demand on their feet and lower extremities, and if they haven't been taking care of them, their feet are subject to overuse problems."
Dr. Radovic, who has a practice at 665 Camino de los Mares, San Clemente, and 16300 Sand Canyon Avenue, Irvine, explains that many of the foot problems facing older people stem from the cumulative effect of years of neglect and abuse.
"The good news is that many of these foot problems experienced by older people can be treated successfully," he says.
One condition limiting the lifestyles of many older people is arthritis. Arthritis, which is estimated to affect one in seven people, is often the most frequent source of debilitating pain and joint destruction. Although there are many forms of arthritis, osteoarthritis, traumatic arthritis and rheumatoid arthritis can cause the most damage to joints, including the ankle joint.
Traditional treatment of an arthritic ankle includes anti-inflammatories, pain medication, shoe inserts, called orthoses, that help with foot mobility, and physical therapy and exercise. When these measures of treatment fail to provide relief, surgery such as ankle fusion and ankle arthroplasty is considered.
"Regardless of how one stays active, foot care should be part of everyone's routine," says Dr. Radovic. "Healthy feet mean limitless exercise, within a doctor's recommended guidelines, which can lead to a longer, more healthy life."
Dr. Radovic suggests the following tips for overall foot and ankle health:
Wear proper fitting shoes. For more strenuous walking and running, an athletic shoe with gel soles, rubber bottoms, arch supports and a size larger are recommended. If mall walking or street walking is preferred, a supportive walking or running shoe will suffice. Wear thicker socks for more cushion.
Stretch daily and remain active. As a body ages, circulation suffers; daily stretching will help warm up the muscles to begin exercise and help cool down tired muscles after activity.
Practice daily foot hygiene and care. In an aging body, toe nails begin to thicken causing more difficulty. For some, trimming the toe nails straight across is recommended. Corns and calluses, which plague the feet of active seniors, must be cared for by a professional. Regular visits to a podiatric surgeon are recommended as part of overall healthcare.
Always consult a family physician before starting an exercise program.
For more information about the feet, contact Dr. Radovic's office at (949)493-8020.