Should I change my foot care routine as I get older?

DEAR DOCTOR K:

As I’ve entered my 60s, I’ve noticed that my toenails are thicker and the skin on my feet is drier. Should I change my foot care routine?

DEAR READER:

Just like the rest of your body, your feet change with age. By age 50, you may have lost nearly half of the fatty padding on the soles of your feet. To compensate, you may want to add over-the-counter cushioning inserts to your shoes for additional padding.

As your feet age, it may also be time to consider different forms of exercise. Swimming and bicycling, for example, put less pressure on the joints of the foot than jogging or tennis.

It’s also a good idea to stretch your feet and ankles regularly to help reduce the incidence of injury. I’ve put examples, descriptions and illustrations of some stretches and exercises, below.

Exercises and stretches for foot health

Limber up

To limber up your foot before attempting other exercises, try this:

  • Sit in a chair with your feet flat on the floor.
  • Lift your left leg so your foot is off the floor and use your big toe to make circles in the air, moving in a clockwise direction, for
    15 to 20 rotations.
  • Reverse direction and make another 15 to 20 circles, this time in a counterclockwise direction.
  • Repeat with your right foot.
  • Bottom of foot stretch

limber up

Bottom of the foot stretch

To stretch the muscles on the bottom of your feet:

  • Stand with feet together.
  • Step back with your left leg so your heel is raised and your toes press against the ground. You should feel the muscles on the bottom of your feet pull gently.
  • Hold for 20 to 30 seconds.
  • Repeat with your right foot.

bottom of foot stretch

Top of foot stretch

To stretch the muscles on top of your feet:

  • Stand with feet together.
  • Working with one foot at a time, raise your heel and curl your toes under, pressing the tops of your toes against the floor. You should feel the muscles on the top of your feet and the front of your ankle gently stretch.
  • Hold for 20 to 30 seconds.
  • Repeat with the other foot.

top of foot stretch

 

 

Strengthening exercise for ankles

You can practice a simple exercise to increase ankle strength that mimics the movement of your foot when you press down on an accelerator or clutch in a car:

  • Sit in a chair with your feet flat on the floor, pointing forward.
  • Lift your left leg. Hold the ends of an exercise band and place the center of the band under the ball of your foot.
  • against the exercise band, as if you were stepping on the gas pedal of your car, and hold for a few seconds. You should feel a stretch on the upper part of your foot. Then release.
  • Repeat 10 to 15 times.
  • Repeat with your right leg.

ankle exercise

 

 

Toenail and foot skin health are important, too. Skin grows thinner and drier with age, and nails may become thicker or more brittle. If your nails are thick and yellow, it may indicate a health problem. To keep your feet healthy, exercise or massage them to increase circulation. Pay attention to nutrition, too. Maintaining good overall health helps your feet stay healthy along with the rest of you.

Another good idea is to moisturize your feet regularly so you don’t develop cracks and fissures in the skin. Not only are openings in the skin painful, they also make you more susceptible to viruses and bacteria that enter through breaks in the skin and cause infection. Pay special attention to the heels, as these can get very dry. However, do not apply lotion or cream between your toes. This area tends to be moist, and you may end up encouraging some type of fungal or bacterial growth.

As your nails become thicker with aging, they may be harder to cut. When I recommend treatments, they do not always involve pharmaceuticals. When a home remedy may work, I mention it as well. Here’s one that may help: Apply a bit of Vicks VapoRub ointment (normally used for easing chest congestion) to your thick nails, massaging it on gently. Wipe off any excess ointment before pulling on socks or going to bed. After a month or so of daily applications, you should find your toenails softer and easier to trim. It’s not clear why this works, but one of the ingredients in Vicks VapoRub (probably the eucalyptus oil) apparently softens the nails.

The questions that readers send in sometimes ask about diseases, particularly major afflictions such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes. But there is one category of suffering that readers ask about more than disease: decrepitude! And lots of people have questions about their aching feet. I’m particularly sympathetic as I’m writing this column, as I’m suffering an attack of gout, and my right foot hurts!