With every step you take over the years, your body absorbs two to three times its weight due to gravity. The main recipient of all that wear and tear? Your feet.
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While your feet are amazing, complicated pieces of machinery, the literal pounding and squeezing they take over the years will change how they look and perform. And the natural changes that come with aging will impact things, too.
One size does not always fit
You might have worn a size 5 when you were 20, but don’t count on wearing that size forever, says podiatrist Joy Rowland, DPM. That’s because your feet get flatter over time.
“Over time and because of gravity, our feet tend to get longer and wider,” Dr. Rowland explains. “That happens after our ligaments and our tendons become a little bit more lax over time.”
In addition to getting bigger, your feet can develop deformities such as bunions and hammertoes as you age, Dr. Rowland says. (As much as one-third of all older people have a bunion, according to the American Geriatrics Society.) This can happen when tendons and ligaments in the feet get tighter or looser, depending on the area of the foot in which they’re located.
Many of us gain weight as we get older, which can also make your feet flatter, Dr. Rowland says.
The plantar fascia tendon that runs the length of the bottom of your foot becomes stretched, which contributes to lowering of the arch. Weight gain also can change the mechanics of how you walk and put extra pressure on the feet and ankles.
Changes in how your body stores fat as you get older also may impact how your feet look and feel. The fat pads that cushion the bottom of your feet grow thinner as you grow older. So your feet absorb less shock, which can make them feel sore and painful when you walk around in thin-soled shoes on hard surfaces.
“When we start aging, we tend to lose the fat pad that is underlying the skin, so some people develop calluses and corns in addition to the fat pad atrophy, which adds to a patient’s pain,” Dr. Rowland says.
Diabetes and arthritis can affect your feet, so if you develop either of those, your feet may require medical treatment. But as long as you are healthy and take routine care of your feet, you usually can avoid serious problems, Dr. Rowland says.
She adds that it’s important to get fitted for shoes every so often to make sure you have a proper fit. When your favorite shoes begin to cause pain or discomfort, it’s time to invest in a new pair. If the pain doesn’t go away, consult a podiatrist.
As you get older, an annual foot health check is also important. Your doctor can identify conditions like diabetes or circulatory problems by looking at your feet, or treat common problems like corns, cracked skin and ingrown toenails.