By Debbie Spingarn, Contributing Writer
REGION – Seventy-five percent of Americans will experience foot problems at some point in their lifetime, and adults over the age of 50 suffer from a myriad of other health problems as well. If you want to fix your foot problems, medical experts say, fix your heart. Or your weight, or your back.
It’s important to make the link between general health and foot health. Massachusetts hospitals and medical facilities such as Atrius Health and Harvard Vanguard all have departments of podiatric medicine and can coordinate with a person’s primary care physician for best care options. In Boston alone there are over 150 private podiatrists and over 600 total in the Bay State. Demand for podiatry is growing, as the population ages yet is increasingly active in sports like running and biking. Older people who want to become active might particularly be deterred by foot problems that reduce their ability to exercise.
Diabetics have special concerns
Newton resident Ilana Benivgy experiences diabetic numbness at times in her feet. This issue – diabetic neuropathy – can cause foot numbness, imbalance, and reduced sensation in the feet. “I feel comfortable with a wide, small heel and a wedge style,” she said.
Most people experience peripheral neuropathy from the bottom up, starting in the toes and moving up the leg. Afflicted individuals are advised to avoid going barefoot and wear soft cotton socks and padded, closed-toe shoes. Checking the feet daily for blisters, cuts or calluses can prevent pain and infection. As 60 to 70 percent of people with diabetes have diabetic nerve damage, it is important to take care of the feet to prevent infection or amputation.
Swelling is another common issue
Another medical problem that shows up as a foot problem is edema, or swelling. Swollen ankles, commonly seen in older adults, make it difficult to walk, find proper fitting shoes and are linked to fluid traveling from the heart to the lower extremities. A related condition, lymphedema-related swelling, is felt by another Newton resident, Phoebe Foley. Foley, who has had the condition since childhood, says the lack of lymph glands in her body results in the painful condition, which presents as swelling in the feet. “In the heat, it’s quite painful and uncomfortable,” she said. “Physical therapy helps a lot. The best thing for it is exercise.”
The number one foot problem
By far the most common foot problem among all age groups according to the American Podiatric Medical Association (APMA) is plantar fasciitis, affecting about 10 percent of the US population.
Dr. Saylee Tulpule, APMA spokesperson and practicing podiatrist, says the common ailment is caused by stress put onto the plantar fascia ligament that helps support the arch of the foot. Such things as poor fitting shoes, stress due to exercise and prolonged standing, can cause the intense heel pain that sends many patients to a podiatrist or seeking other forms of relief.
Treatment, explained Tulpule, consists of orthotic devices to provide arch support, therapeutic stretches of the foot and reduced exercise to allow healing of the ligament. “Foot pain often prevents individuals from exercising and promotes a sedentary lifestyle,” Tulpule observed. “It’s important to provide patients with better shoe options, stretches, orthotics and to work with each patient’s individual interests.”
Shoes aren’t the only fix
Foot issues are often reflections of other medical and health issues. After all, our feet are just one body part that should be looked at in a holistic way. Often, that foot problem can be fixed through improvement of your general health rather than a new pair of shoes. So, the next time your foot hurts, don’t just blame your shoes.
Debbie Spingarn lives in Norwood, MA and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.