Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Feet Problems with the Elderly

Foot pain and other disorders are common among the elderly. But this does not mean that they have to accept the discomfort or live with an inability to continue with their normal lives. Old age does not mean pain and unsteadiness of the feet leading to an increased danger of falling down. Foot problems are not limited to the elderly. Research shows that up to 87% of the population of this country has experienced foot pain at some stage of their lives. But the volume and types of problems do increase with age and one third of the people over age of 65 suffer from foot conditions.

The Causes of Foot Problems in the Elderly

There are three main reasons for foot problems in the elderly. The first is wearing of ill-fitting shoes, especially at a younger age. This can cause damage to the feet that only becomes apparent after years have passed. The second is medical conditions. Problems such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, knee, hip or back pain all affect the feet and can cause a variety of foot conditions to appear. The third cause is simple wear and tear over time. Each foot contains 26 bones, 33 joints and over 120 nerves, ligaments and muscles which all work together to enable easy foot movement. An average person spends about 4 hours a day on his or her feet and takes about 10,000 steps. The small feet have to bear the weight of the body through all this. In time the natural cushioning of the feet under the heel and ball is worn away. The arches lose their flexibility and the feet and ankle joints become stiffer. The years of carrying weight also cause the foot to get wider and longer.

All these contribute to a myriad of foot pain issues and other medical conditions affecting the feet. Foot care, exercise and maintaining overall good health can reduce the impact of age on the feet, but the wear and tear that they suffer can never be totally negated.

The Main Foot Problems in the Elderly

The most common foot problems faced by the elderly include:
Ø  Calluses and Corns – the development of dead, thick painful skin on the feet
Ø  Bunions – a bony growth at the base of the big toe (and possibly other toes) that over time causes misalignment of the toe
Ø  Heel pain – a pain that is present from the rear of the arch to the heel of the foot
Ø  Plantar Fasciitis – A painful inflamed ligament along the sole of the foot
Ø  Hammertoes – toes joints that curl unnaturally leading to dislocation over time
Ø  Arthritis – this can cause a range of pain and discomfort symptoms in the feet
Ø  Diabetes – this can cause circulation problems, loss of feeling and ulcers that are very slow to heal.
Ø  Arch pain – caused by fallen arches (flat feet) or unusually high arches
Ø  Tarsal Tunnel Syndrome – a pain caused by pinched nerves
Ø  Morton’s Neuroma – a benign growth the develops between the third and fourth toes
Ø  Achilles tendon – inflammation and pain in the tendon at the rear of the foot that connects to the calf muscle.

The feet, like the rest of the body, will weaken with age. And misuse and lack of proper foot care when young will exacerbate the problems in old age. But common sense foot care, proper hygiene, the use of well-fitting shoes and regular visits to the foot specialist will all help to reduce the impact and allow for fewer and perhaps even no foot problems in old age.

Friday, 11 October 2013

Children with Flat Feet – What are the Treatment Options?

Parents want their children to be perfect in every way. Even the commonest of problems and minor medical conditions are cause for worry. And among these issues is that of less than perfect arches on a child’s feet. It’s not just a matter of appearance. Flat feet can cause discomfort and even pain and also affect athletic abilities. But what actually are flat feet? It is generally taken to mean that the arch that runs under the inner side of the soles of the feet is either insufficient or completely absent. However, there is no accepted definition or standard as to what a flat foot is and what is not.

Do Flat Feet Need Treatment?

The question of treatment for flat feet is equally open to various answers. A minor reduction in the arch may not require any attention but determining that is best left to a podiatrist. In general, the earlier flat feet are treated, the better so that the correction of the arch can be done while the young feet are still supple enough to accept the re-alignment easily. The most common form of treatment is orthotics which are inserts paced in the shoes to provide support under the weak arch and cause it to change into the correct shape. If the orthotics are custom made they can be extremely expensive and once again, a foot specialist is the best person to advice on the right course of action.

But it may be that no corrective action is required.

It Is a Common Problem

Studies show that up to 13% of children have flat feet and the volume is highest among younger children. The fact that the numbers drop as the children age shows that in some cases the conditions corrects itself over time. In fact a degree of flat footedness that comes down with age until it is gone by the time the child is nine years old is quite common.

And not all children with flat feet develop problems or more severe symptoms later on in life. The typically flat footed child’s flat foot is what is known as a “flexible flat foot.” That means that the arch is present when the foot is off the ground but it disappears when the weight is placed on the foot. The thumb rule is that if the child suffers from pain, discomfort or any form of limitation in activity because of the flat feet, treatment should be undertaken. 

The case of children with flat feet who have no symptoms of any kind and also have no limitations in their movement and abilities because of the conditions is more complex. Should the feet be treated in case problems develop later on or should they be left alone and needless treatment be avoided? Here again it is best that a foot specialist takes the call on the course of action to be followed, or if no treatment is needed.

If no treatment is advised, that does not mean that the conditions can be ignored. The child needs to be monitored as he or she ages to see if the condition improves or becomes worse. Signs of an increase in the severity of the problem include changes in the shape of the foot, occurrence of pain or discomfort and changes in the child’s posture. If the use of orthotics is not required, then well-fitting supportive shoes with built in additional arch support is usually enough to bring the problem under control.