10 Steps to Healthier Feet (and Fall Prevention)

10 Steps to Healthier Feet (and Fall Prevention)

Your feet are marvels of natural engineering. Did you know that your feet contain 26 bones and 33 joints? All those joints allow your foot to flex with the smallest movement, which allows you to walk properly. Your feet also contain more than 120 ligaments, tendons, muscles, and nerves.

If your feet are in good shape and not giving you any pain, you might never give all those elements a second thought. But when they start to hurt – like they do for up to 87% of seniors and the elderly, according to HealthinAging.org – you definitely notice.1 And while some folks believe that foot pain is a natural consequence of aging, there are things seniors can do to lessen the discomfort in your feet and thus stay safer from falls.

And that’s important, because a study published in the journal Gerontology reports that foot pain is associated with a 62% increased risks of repeated falls.2 One fall is bad enough! Repeated falls lead to more opportunity for injury, including hip fractures, other broken bones, and even traumatic brain injury if you hit your head on the way down.

And though having a personal emergency alert for elderly adults right at your fingertips can allow you to reach out for help the moment you suffer a fall, of course the best scenario is to not fall at all.

Podiatrists say that we all do things that contribute to foot pain and the resulting falls. Eliminating or reducing those factors can go a long way toward staying safe and healthy. Let’s take a look at 10 steps you can take for happier feet.

1. Stop Ignoring the Aches and Pains

While you might think that aching feet are a typical sign of aging, keep in mind that your feet are made up of many parts that can become injured – and you don’t have to be an athlete to suffer an injury to your feet. Stress fractures can occur if you are on your feet too long, especially if you are among the 10 million elderly adults in the United States who are prone to osteoporosis.

If the aches in your feet go away after some rest, you’re probably fine. But if those pains continue or get worse, see a doctor to make sure there’s nothing serious happening.

2. Don’t Stick to the Same Shoe Size

Your shoe size is… well, your shoe size. Right? Many people don’t realize that as we get older, our feet change, sometimes dramatically. That’s because all of those ligaments, tendons, and muscles shift over time and under the constant pressure of walking. These changes in your feet are called foot morphology.

That means that if you always wore a size seven, you might wind up wearing a size eight as you get older, to accommodate those changes in your feet. You might even find that one foot is a different size than the other!

A study reported in Science Daily found that 83% of seniors are wearing shoes of an incorrect size. That can lead to foot pain, which then leads to anxiety, loss of balance, and of course, falls.3

Before you go to the shoe store, go to the podiatrist and find out what your shoe size really is.

3. Change Up Your Shoes

Finding that perfect pair of shoes feels like a huge score! They feel so supportive and comfortable that you might want to wear them all day, every day. But while they might feel great, wearing them all the time is a mistake. Switching up your shoes from day to day can ensure that you don’t wind up using the same part of the foot every time you step, which helps lessen the odds of injury. Find two or three supportive pairs of shoes and rotate through them throughout the week.

And while you’re at it, make sure you are choosing the appropriate shoes for your activities. For instance, shoes made for basketball aren’t built the same as those made for walking, and those aren’t built the same as those made for running. Choose the right shoes and wear them at appropriate times.

4. Avoid Wearing Old Shoes

Some things age like fine wine. Shoes are definitely not one of those things.

While it might seem as though that tried-and-true pair of shoes is the way to go, they really aren’t as great as they seem. When shoes begin to wear out, they allow your foot to tilt to the side, which leads to an awkward gait. As you try to overcompensate, you not only begin to feel pain in your feet, but in other parts of your body as well. And of course, your odds of falling increase dramatically.

To avoid this problem, make sure you retire your day-to-day shoes every six months or so. If you are wearing orthopedic shoes prescribed by your podiatrist, talk to them about when to replace the shoes – they might recommend replacing the inserts.

5. Get Enough Support

Speaking of supportive shoes, there are some shoes that simply don’t provide any at all. These include things like flip-flops, ballet shoes, and flat sneakers. While they might look great, they are wreaking havoc on your feet with every step. The worst consequence of wearing these shoes regularly is collapsed foot arches, which change your gait in a substantial way. Make sure your shoes have good support, a strong sole, and heels that are no higher than two inches.

6. Get a Pedicure

Taking good care of your feet is essential to good health. This is especially true for those who have diabetes or other health problems that can affect the sensation in their feet, as this makes it tough to spot problems before they become major issues.

While many feel a professional pedicure is an indulgence, it can actually be a good step toward a healthier life. Consider that ingrown toenails can lead to pain and infections. Dry and scaly patches can lead to deeper fissures on the feet. And if you have difficulty looking at the bottom of your feet, you might not notice problems until it’s too late. Having your feet soaked, cleaned, smoothed, and pampered can help you avoid serious foot problems – and it feels really good, too!

Tell the salon professional if you have any medical issues, such as diabetes or low circulation. They will adjust their procedures to accommodate you. And before you leave, ask for tips to keep your feet healthy at home.

And don’t forget – pedicures aren’t just for women. Men enjoy them too.

7. Take Care to Stay Balanced

You might not think about exactly how you carry around a backpack or a heavy purse. You simply pick it up or swing it over your shoulder and off you go. But did you know that carrying a heavy item on the same side of your body all the time can lead to problems with balance? The constant shift in your weight, no matter how slight, can throw your body slightly off-kilter. That’s why it’s so important to alternate the side on which you carry things.

Carrying things around that put you a bit off-balance makes you a higher fall risk. That’s especially true as you walk in areas you are unfamiliar with and step over and around obstacles, such as curbs or breaks in a sidewalk. An on-the-go medical alarm can help provide the peace of mind you need when you’re out and about. If you do suffer a fall, help can be headed your way with the simple touch of a button.

8. Wear Slippers Around the House

Why should you wear shoes in the house? Because walking around barefoot can actually put your feet at risk of injury (if you’ve ever stubbed your toe, you know exactly how much that injury can hurt). And besides that, walking in bare feet on hardwood floors or tile can eventually lead to wearing down of the fat pad in the foot, problems with your arches, and other issues that come from being on a flat surface all the time.

Choose slippers that fit well and don’t allow your foot to slide around in them. Look for strong yet flexible soles and some arch support, too.

And always remember to have a button alert handy, even when you’re in your own private space at home. Many injuries and falls happen in the home so it pays to be prepared for that, just in case. Opting for medical alert systems with fall detection is an even safer bet.

9. Give Your Feet a Break

While foot experts don’t recommend walking around the house in bare feet, they do recommend allowing your feet to breathe as often as you can. When your feet are in shoes all day, they are prone to sweating and tiring out quickly. When you’re hanging out on the couch at home after a long day, slip off your shoes and socks and let your feet breathe. This is especially important after exercise!

Better yet, put your bare feet up on an ottoman to get better blood flow to them – and some extra relaxation for you.

10. Use Sunscreen

You might be adamant about putting sunscreen on your face and body, but do you neglect your feet?

If you are wearing shoes that have an open top, such as many slipper styles, your foot is exposed to the sun. You can develop skin cancer there just as readily as anywhere else on your body, so use a minimum of SPF 30 for good protection. As with any sunscreen, remember to wash it away at the end of a long day of fun in the sun.

Keep these tips in mind to ensure that your feet are as healthy and happy as possible! And as an added bonus, you’ll even help decrease your risk of falling.