The five most common foot problems for over-60s

Oct 28, 2019
There are specific foot problems that become more common with age. Source: Getty

As you age, it’s not uncommon to encounter foot problems. After all, our feet take a beating throughout our lifetime, which means they’re often one of the first body parts to develop aches and pains.

There are certain foot problems that become more common with age and learning about the symptoms and causes of each of these conditions can help you to prevent them from doing more harm to your feet further down the track

Here is a list of the most common age-related foot problems to look out for, including how to treat them.

1. Plantar fasciitis

Plantar fasciitis refers to pain at the bottom of the foot, on the heel and around the arch of the foot. The plantar fascia is a thick, fibrous band that connects the heel to the toes and when it becomes inflamed through overuse or not being supported correctly, it can cause debilitating pain. People with plantar fasciitis will notice pain in their heel or mid-foot when they put weight on it or when doing physical activity.

Someone who’s simply overworked their plantar fascia will benefit from basic treatments such as using ice to reduce inflammation, resting, taping the foot or wearing orthotics that relieve the muscle tension and take the pressure off the plantar fascia.

For more complex and chronic problems, osteopaths can perform soft tissue work and osteopathic treatment to the plantar fascia and surrounding structures.

2. Bunions

In simple terms, a bunion forms when the joint of the big toe moves out of place due to pressure, causing the affected toe to develop a bulging bump and point outward towards the other smaller toes. They can also form at the base of the little toe, where they are called a bunionette.

The most common symptoms of bunions include swelling, redness or soreness around your big toe joint, thick skin on the underside of your big toe, calluses on your second toe (often caused by your big toe and second toe overlapping) and persistent foot pain.

Surgery is the only way to correct a bunion, but whether you require surgery would likely depend on the severity of them, and for many people there are non-surgical options worth exploring. Non-surgical treatments include painkillers, such as paracetamol or ibuprofen, bunion pads and splints, and wearing suitable footwear.

3. Corns and calluses

When it comes to problems with the feet, corns and calluses are among the most common. Although corns and calluses often get lumped together, there are some slight differences between the two. Corns are circles of thick skin that commonly form on the toes and soles of the feet, while calluses are hard and rough patches of skin that are typically yellow in colour and form on the balls of the feet.

Corns can form when people wear shoes that don’t fit properly. For example, shoes that are too big can cause rubbing, while some designs cause extra pressure in certain parts of the foot. Similarly, a callus can also develop in areas of the foot where skin rubs against something. They’re more likely to appear on the heel as this is the part of the foot that takes the most force when walking or exercising.

There are also over-the-counter creams and products that don’t require a prescription that can help soften the skin with the help of special ingredients. A pharmacist will usually be able to offer general advice and information, however, the most effective thing to do is to visit a podiatrist. They will be able to remove a corn or callus, while most over-the-counter options will temporarily ease pain.

4. Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis, affecting more than 1.8 million Australians. It can appear at any age, but tends to occur more in women and in people aged over 40, or those who have had severe joint injuries. Common symptoms include swelling in or near the joint, pain and stiffness in the joint and difficulty walking or bending the joint.

Luckily, there are many treatments available for foot and ankle osteoarthritis. Common non-surgical treatments include anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen to reduce the swelling, custom orthotic devices (shoe inserts) and physical therapy. However in advanced cases surgery may be the only option.

5. Achilles tendinitis

Another leading cause of foot pain is Achilles tendinitis, a condition that triggers severe pain behind the heel. The condition causes inflammation of the tendon that connects the heel to the calf, often as a result of overusing your leg muscles. Common symptoms of Achilles tendinitis include discomfort or swelling in the back of your heel, tight calf muscles and difficulty walking.

The good news is that it’s fairly easy to treat. Tendinitis usually responds well to non-surgical treatments like rest and anti-inflammatory medication, physical therapy and avoiding activities that aggravate the condition. If all other treatment options have failed though, surgery may be necessary.

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