There are more than 300 different foot ailments, and many can be traced back to years of taking your feet for granted.
"Several foot problems can be described as self-inflicted, because they arise from doing things like wearing high heels or badly fitting shoes," explained Podiatrist Gregory Blasko, D.P.M.
"Women have four times as many foot problems as men and high heels are often a contributing factor. For instance, hammertoes and bunions can occur from squeezing toes into narrow shoes, and high heels can also result in damage to the Achilles' tendons or the metatarsal bones of the foot."
Feet and Aging
Other foot conditions can be related to the effects of the aging process, and many people don't realize that as they grow older, the ligaments and tendons in their feet stretch out, causing them to increase by half of a shoe size or more.
Your 30s: "People often have flatter feet than they think they do, and need a different type or size of shoe," Dr. Blasko suggested. "One way to tell is to step out of the shower and look at your wet foot's imprint on the bath mat. A flatter foot will leave a wider spot, while a higher-arched one will show less contact along the inner arch."
Tips for Keeping Feet Healthy
1.Wear good shoes: Buy low-heeled shoes that fit well with room for your toes. Shop for shoes in the afternoon or evening as feet tend to swell during the day. Replace shoes regularly.
2. Never cut corns and calluses with a razor, pocket knife, or other such instrument; use over-the-counter foot products only with the advice of a podiatrist.
3. Bathe your feet daily in lukewarm (not hot) water, using a mild soap, preferably one containing moisturizers, or use a moisturizer separately.
4. Trim or file your toenails straight across.
5. Stay physically fit and walk: Walking strengthens and stretches the feet, and helps people stay physically fit and avoid excess weight gain.
People with low arches often need a stability shoe, while those with higher arches may benefit from extra cushioning. But no matter what kind of arch you have, you can also help prevent other foot-related problems by throwing away your running or walking shoes after 350 to 500 miles-which is about every 8 to 12 months if you log about 10 miles a week.
"Foot problems at any age can be aggravated when people wear shoes far beyond their replacement stage," Dr. Blasko advised. "There comes a time when the shoe is no longer effective in holding the heel firmly in place at the back, and the sole no longer absorbs shock effectively."
Your 40s: "During this time, the shock-absorbing fat pad on the bottom of the feet starts to get thinner, making higher heels even harder to tolerate," he said. "Feet also tend to grow longer and wider as you age, especially if you've been pregnant, which means you shouldn't be in the same size shoe that you wore in your twenties. Also, as people gain weight, these extra pounds can cause changes in the structure of the foot's bones and ligaments."
Another common problem affecting as many as 40 percent of women in their forties is toenail fungus, resulting in toenails, which can be yellowed, brownish or thick. "This toenail fungus, which can also cause athlete's feet, may lead to bacterial infections and pain," Dr. Blasko said. "Common culprits include shoes that don't let air in or when women leave toe nail polish on for long periods of time. To help avoid this problem, wear well-ventilated shoes and try to take at least a three-week toe nail polish break twice a year."
Your 50s and beyond: "Thicker and tougher skin on the heels can result from menopause-related hormonal changes, as well as backless shoes or flip-flops that bang the heel rather than hug it," Dr. Blasko added. "To help soften this skin, smooth on a moisturizing cream at night that contains urea, uric acid, or lactic acid. Try to avoid the area between the toes, and cover the feet with a pair of socks for extra softening."
As the body ages, the joints of the feet may also stiffen. To help maintain flexibility:
1. Sit with your knees touching as your feet move together along the floor, tapping to the right, center, and left.
2. Bend and flex your toes. Flex and un-flex them in order to move your feet along the floor like they're inchworms.
"The human foot has been called the mirror of health,because it is often one of the first areas of the body to show symptoms of a medical condition, such as diabetes, arthritis, or circulatory disease," Dr. Blasko concluded.
"For example, the onset of dry skin, brittle nails, burning and tingling sensations, feelings of cold, numbness, or discoloration in the feet can indicate that further medical evaluation is needed. Try to inspect your feet every day for redness, swelling, cracks in the skin, or sores, and consult with a podiatrist if any problems areas are identified.
"Lastly, some people assume that it is normal for their feet to hurt, and so they endure foot problems that could be treated successfully."
Gregory Blasko, D.P.M., is a podiatrist affiliated with Ankle and Foot Care Centers, Inc., and Salem Community Hospital's medical staff. Appointments with Dr. Blasko can be made by calling his Salem office at 330- 337-8870, or his Poland office at 3262 Center Road, 330- 707-1220.