What’s With These Feet?

Bubbe's Shoes

When I was in high school, I wore a size 5 shoe and had tiny hands. So why did I find that a size 7 was the best fit for me the other day in Gabe’s????

A podiatrist at George Washington University Medical Center estimates that some people over the age of 40 can gain half a shoe size every 10 years. As we age our feet don’t actually get bigger, instead, they flatten as the tendons and ligaments lose some of their elasticity holding the bones and joints together. Gravity gradually overwhelms the older, less resilient ligaments in the weight-bearing feet but not in the free-floating hands (my hands are still tiny.). It squeezes fluid from leaky veins in the lower extremities, contributing to swelling. In addition, if you have had children, hormones released during pregnancy cause ligaments to relax.

Looser tendons and ligaments mean more than the need for bigger shoes. As the front of the foot widens and the arch lowers, the foot becomes not only longer but more flexible and flatter, letting the ankle roll inward and increasing the chance for sprains. Then there’s the constant force of bearing weight that causes the fat pads cushioning the bottom of the feet to thin out. When this happens, they can absorb less shock, which can make feet sore and painful after time. The loss of padding can also cause corns and calluses on your balls and heels.

Also, as the foot becomes wider, longer and less padded, the plantar fascia tendon that runs along the length of the sole and forms the arch becomes stretched, contributing to the lowering of the arch. A lower arch contributes to bunions, sometimes painful, bony prominences sticking out from the big toe. Foot flattening has the added disadvantage of pulling the big toe up. This can cause pain in its own right, but if a big toe is sticking up and in a too-tight shoe, it can rub against the top of the shoe, thickening the toenail and possibly damaging it and turning it black.

Osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and osteoporosis can pester joints and bones of the feet as well, especially in the big toe, already hampered by tendons and ligaments pulling it up. These conditions can cause damage to bones and joints, and thin bones are more prone to stress fractures. All of these changes in foot structure affect balance and gait. Older people who have weaker, less flexible ankles as well as other problems such as bunions or reduced sensation on the bottoms of their feet were more likely to fall.

Aging feet need properly fitted shoes with good support and cushioning. Shoes should have good cushioning in the heel to make up for the loss of natural padding and the widest part of the foot, usually the front, should fit the widest part of the shoe. It is important to keep leg muscles in good shape. Out-of-shape calf muscles can torment the plantar fascia and Achilles tendons. Basic stretching and weight-bearing exercises help prevent muscle and bone loss and improve circulation, and adjust to a bigger shoe.

2 Thoughts

  1. Jim says:

    Wow! That was depressing but informative. I need new shoes pronto.

  2. Sarah says:

    That was very informative! Great advice with building leg muscle. It’s also important to get those feet up on a wall and above your head regularly – another reason to love yoga.

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