19 Foot Problems to Watch for in Aging Feet

Foot condition in the elderly

Whoever coined the phrase “you never know how sweet the water is until the well runs dry” could have been referring to foot problems that plague the elderly. Roughly one- third of people over the age of 65 suffer from foot pain, stiffness, or aching feet, according to HealthinAging.org.

Aging feet need special care as the risks for chronic foot problems increase. These conditions often include corns, calluses, nail disorders, bunions, and hammertoes, to name a few. Systemic foot conditions associated with aging patients include arthritis, gout, and diabetes.

A Closer Look at Common Foot Problems in Older Adults

This is not a complete list of foot issue that can occur within their later years, though here are the 19 of the most common:

1. Fat Pad Atrophy

Though many aging patients fight the accumulation of weight and fat, others actually lose padding in their feet. Because the pads on the ball and heel of your foot cushion each step, this can become a painful experience.

Traditional treatment modalities include wearing shoes with cushions, orthotics, or filler injections to replace the pad.

UFAI now offers LenevaTM, a brand-new fat-grafting system newly introduced in the United States. This all-natural injectable product consists of sterilized human fat tissue (called adipose tissue) that’s placed within a cellular matrix

When inserted under a pressure point, LenevaTM not only cushions the area but also provides a scaffolding which your body can use to populate with new fat cells. This combination of grafted fat plus your own new fat cells creates a stable cushion that can provide comfort over many months to years. 

2. Morton’s Neuroma

A neuroma is a benign growth (not actually a tumor), but a thickening of the tissue and inflammation of nerve tissue. A Morton’s Neuroma is a neuroma that’s causes foot pain in the ball of the foot (usually between the third and fourth toes).

A Morton’s neuroma is often described as feeling like you are standing on a pebble in your shoe, a shooting pain, or like a big fold in your sock that you are constantly walking on. You may also have burning pain or numbness and foot.

3. Cracked Heels

The soles of healthy feet are typically thick, supple, and strong to protect you from the stresses of walking, stepping on surfaces of uneven textures and temperatures. But when you’ve been less-than-diligent about keeping them healthy, your feet – particularly your heels – can dry out, looking ashy and cracked.

Cracked heels can hurt to walk on, and the skin can break and bleed more easily than healthy heels. Open wounds on your feet can lead to infection.

4. Heel Pain and Plantar Fasciitis

Heel pain and plantar fasciitis are one of the most common presenting complaints to the podiatrists. Although plantar heel pain seems to predominate in this category, we cannot overlook posterior heel pain as an important subset of heel pain syndrome.

5. Ingrown Toenail

An ingrown toenail (Onychocryptosis) is a common discomfort that involves the nail curving down, into the surrounding skin as it grows. Interestingly, ingrown toenails are absent in cultures that go barefoot, but that isn’t an option for most of us in Southern California.

Most prevalent in the big toe, ingrown toenails can be painful, display redness, swelling, and infection (yellow drainage). Ingrown toenails frequently resolve without medical treatment; however, chronic or complicated cases may require treatment by a physician.

6. Corns

A corn usually forms on the top of the foot and/or toes, over a joint or bone. The core of the corn is the dense, thick knot at the very center, which forms over the point of the greatest compression or friction from your shoe. Corns can cause discomfort and make it harder to walk or run in your shoes.

Corns can be soft or hard: soft corns are supple and tender and are usually found on the delicate skin between the toes. They are kept moist by sweat and are prone to infection. Hard corns are firmer and drier and form on the knobby toe knuckles and outer edges. Most people develop corns due to wearing shoes that are too tight

7. Calluses

A callus develops in response to excessive rubbing and friction. It looks like a dull yellow, flat, rough layer of skin and is usually found on the sole of the foot. Unlike a corn, a callus has a uniform thickness. Calluses can sometimes be painful or make walking more difficult.

Most calluses form when the foot isn’t fitting well in the shoe, and there is space for parts of the foot to move around and rub against the inside of the shoe. In some cases, a callus may form due to problems with walking. A change in your gait might change the way your foot slides around in your shoe, creating a new area of friction where a callus might develop.

8. Bunions

Best Treatment for Bunions

A bunion typically appears as a bony bump on the inside edge of the foot, where the innermost bone of the foot meets the big toe.

The visible bump appears when the first metatarsal shifts outward so that the head of the bone protrudes on the inside of the foot near the big toe joint. When the bunion develops on the base of the little toe, it is called a tailor’s bunion

Bunions are one of the most common foot problems, affecting an estimated 25-33% of adults. There is a genetic component to them, though not everyone with a bunion has others in their family who suffer from them.  Bunions occur the most in women and older adults.

University Foot and Ankle Institute is an international leader in the treatment of bunions, both non-surgical and surgical. We are the developers of two state-of-the-art protocols, the minimally invasive MinVasive BunionectomyTM and the Forever BunionectomyTM.

9. Hammertoe

A hammer toe is a fairly common foot problem that occurs when the middle joint of the toe develops an abnormal bend and becomes flexed or bent downward. This is due to a muscle imbalance around the toe joints. 

This imbalance is what causes the toe to bend at one or more joints, eventually pushing the middle of the toe upward in a claw-like position.

Unfortunately, a hammer toe usually causes pain and never gets better without medical intervention. The sooner it is treated, the better the outcome and shorter the recovery time.

10. Osteoarthritis

Ankle arthritis, a form of osteoarthritis, is a degenerative condition in which the articular cartilage of the ankle joint wears thin and eventually breaks down.

Without cartilage to protect the bones from the friction of motion, the bones fragment and spurs begin to develop, causing pain and stiffness in the joint

Although many aging adults dismiss the pain as another sign of “old age,” or of an old ankle injury “acting up,” it’s important to seek help for chronic ankle pain. There are a number of treatments that can slow the progress of ankle arthritis, relieve pain, and keep patients on their feet.

11. Flat Foot

Flatfoot reconstructive surgery effective for older patients

Adult acquired flat foot is not a congenital flat foot but acquired over time. This is due to damage to the posterior tibial tendon which is the main tendon supporting the arch of the foot. With a tear in the tendon over many years of abnormal strain, the arch will begin to collapse as the posterior tibial tendon weakens and unravels.

Over time, the collapsed arch may go from flexible to rigid as the foot gets “stuck” in the flat position and therefore is not freely reducible and correctable. It is important to treat a flexible flat foot due to posterior tibial tendon tear rapidly prior to the joints becoming rigid due to the severe collapse.

12. Achilles Tendinitis

The Achilles tendon is one of the longest tendons in your body, extending from your calf muscles to the bones of your heel. It allows you to extend your foot and point your toes to the floor. Unfortunately, it’s one of the most frequently injured tendons.

Inflammation of the tendon, known as Achilles tendinitis, it is a common sports injury. In most cases can be treated at home under the care of your physician.

13. Diabetic Foot Ulcer

Diabetic neuropathy — the result of several metabolic and neurovascular factors — causes loss of pain or feeling in the toes, feet, legs, and arms due to nerve damage and poor circulation.

Blisters and sores may appear on numb areas of the diabetic’s feet and heel region. Because there is limited or no feeling, the injury goes unnoticed and eventually becomes an entry for bacteria and infection.

Risk factors include cigarette smoking, poor glycemic control, previous foot ulceration or amputations, diabetic kidney disease, and poor circulation.

14. Gout

What is Gout, Gout Symtoms

Gout can present in multiple ways, although the most common is a recurrent attack of acute inflammatory arthritis (a red, tender, hot, swollen joint). The metatarsal-phalangeal joint at the base of the big toe is affected most often, accounting for half of the cases. Other joints, such as the heels, knees, wrists, and fingers, may also be affected. Joint pain usually begins during the night and peaks within 24 hours of onset. This is mainly due to lower body temperature.

Gout is a very common condition that can be very painful. Quick and appropriate treatment can provide relief and help prevent joint destruction in the future.

15. Bone Spurs

A bone spur is a growth of extra bone. It typically develops where two or more bones meet. These bony projections form as the body tries to repair itself. Bone spurs can feel like a hard lump or bump underneath the skin.

The chances of developing a bone spur in the foot increase with age. Its impact on your everyday routine depends on the severity. Some people don’t even notice a bone spur on their foot. Others deal with crippling pain that makes it difficult to walk, stand, or wear shoes.

16. Bursitis

Bursitis is a painful condition that affects the small, fluid-filled sacs — called bursae — that cushion the bones, tendons, and muscles near your joints. Bursitis occurs when bursae become inflamed.

Bursitis, which increases in frequency with age, typically occurs in the heel and base of the big toe.

Treatment typically involves resting the affected joint and protecting it from further trauma. In most cases, bursitis pain goes away within a few weeks with proper treatment, but recurrent flare-ups of bursitis are common.

17. Claw Toe

A claw toe is similar to a hammertoe, but instead of just the middle joint being affected, claw toes also affect the joints closest to the tips of your toes. Your toes curl and dig straight down into the floor or the soles of your shoes. Claw toes grow stiffer with age. If you can move them, try strengthening exercises like picking up a marble or piece of paper with your toes.

18. Stress Fractures

When people hear the word fracture, they generally think of a broken bone. They associate it with some sort of known traumatic event such as falling or dropping something on their foot. However, not all fractures are due to trauma. There’s another type of fracture called a stress fracture.

A stress fracture frequently occurs due to increasing the amount or intensity of an activity too quickly. If there is a lot more pressure over a short period, the bone does not have enough time to adapt thus leading to increased stress to the bone. This causes increased inflammation inside the bone and tiny hairline fractures to outside of the bone.

19. Fungal Infections

Athlete’s foot is a very common fungal infection of the skin that affects the web spaces between the toes, and soles of the feet. Fungal infections can be contagious as they are passed from one person to the next, especially in public spaces where people go barefoot. This infection is commonly spread on contaminated floors of public spaces such as gyms, swimming pools, or nail salons.

Patients often will sometimes present with itching and burning of the feet. The skin itself can be scaly or peeling, as well as red. There can occasionally be some oozing fluid present, and blistering. Some patients may not notice anything wrong with their feet and think that it is just “dry skin”.

People with a low immune system will typically be more at risk of developing a fungal infection. This includes people with diabetes, HIV/AIDS, and cancer, who have more trouble fighting foreign pathogens in their body.

Don’t let foot pain ruin your golden years

Geriatric foot problems can limit your mobility and decrease your independence. At UFAI we help you invest in your foundation and maintain healthy feet. After all, healthy feet improve overall health. 

At University Foot and Ankle Institute, we take our patients’ safety seriously. Our facility’s Covid-19 patient safety procedures exceed all CDC recommendations. Masks are required in our institutes at all times.

For more information or to schedule a consultation in the greater Los Angeles area, please call (877) 736-6001 or make an appointment now.

University Foot and Ankle Institute is conveniently located throughout Southern California and the Los Angeles area as our foot doctors are available at locations in or near Santa Monica (on Wilshire Blvd.), Beverly Hills, West Los Angeles, Manhattan Beach, Northridge, Downtown Los Angeles, Westlake Village, Granada Hills, and Valencia California.

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