In 1948, Earl V. Shaffer became the first person to hike from one end of the Appalachian Trail to the other in one trip, a feat that carried him across more than 2,000 miles of mountains, meadows, and streams between Georgia and Maine.
Fifty years later, to celebrate the golden anniversary of his hike, the Pennsylvania man marched his 79-year old feet – often sock-less in a pair of boots – step by wearying step along the entire trail yet again.
When he finished the 5-month trek, he shared his euphoria with reporters. “I’m mighty, mighty, mighty glad it’s over,”. he said. “If I had to go another week, I would fall on my face.”
Even if you’ve never hoofed across 14 states at a time, the normal wear and tear you’ve put on your feet during your lifetime can give them plenty of reason to ache, too.
But that doesn’t mean you should accept foot pain as a consequence of aging. After all, the two factors that most determine how active we’ll be as we get older are the keenness of our minds and our ability to keep walking.
Though you don’t have to accept foot pain, nature will probably try to send you some anyway. Your feet are susceptible to a host of problems, in part because of their complexity and the function they serve.
Each foot is an assembly of 26 bones, 33 joints, 19 muscles and tendons, and more than 100 ligaments. Each day, the weight that your feet must carry step by step can add up to several tons.
Over the years, problems in your feet that may have been minor in your youth, such as the misaligned bones found in bunions and hammertoes, can grow more serious.
Improper choices in the shoes you wear can lead to foot pain as well as to conditions ranging from dry skin to reduced circulation to arthritis.
Then there’s diabetes, a disease that often gets special mention in discussions of foot problems since it can impair arteries and nerves to the feet, making them especially prone to harm.
Despite the potential for problems, many people tend to be cavalier about maintaining their feet, perhaps because these body parts are usually hidden out of sight under shoes and socks.
If you have foot pain that doesn’t get better after a few days, you should see a podiatrist or your primary doctor to find out what’s wrong. Until then, stay well-acquainted with these southern most reaches of your body so that you can maintain their health and stamp out painful problems soon after they begin.
For fast relief
Use the RICE remedy. Though there are many different things that can cause foot pain, an overall pain reliever that you may try is RICE, which stands for rest, ice, compression, and elevation.
Wrap a hand towel over your foot to protect it, then place a bag of ice or frozen vegetables on the site of your pain. Wrap an elastic bandage over the bag to keep it in place and provide compression. Then, lie down and elevate your aching foot on a pillow so that it’s above your heart.
The ice will help reduce pain and inflammation in your foot, and the elevation and compression will reduce swelling. It is recommended that you do this for about 20 minutes out of every waking 1/2 hour for 24 to 72 hours.
Note: This treatment not generally recommended for people with diabetes.
For lasting relief.
Get those doggies moving. A common cause of foot pain is arthritis, and exercise is a great way to keep its pain in check.
It can be likened to a rusty hinge on a door. If you keep the door moving and oiled, it will have less tendency to stiffen up and not work. You don’t want to overdo it, but seniors need to move.
It is also recommended at least 30 minutes of exercise three times a week. The type you choose depends in part on your abilities, but walking is the most recommended. If stiffness is bothering you, try swimming or walking in the swimming pool.
Stretch it out. One source of foot pain is the tough band of tissue called the plantar fascia that runs across the arch of your foot from the base of your toes to your heel. If this tissue becomes inflamed, you might feel a sharp pain in your heel when you take your first few steps after getting out of bed or up out of a chair.
For relief, place your palms against a wall, stand a few steps away with your feet flat on the floor, and gently lean forward against the wall. Hold this stretch for about 30 seconds, relax and repeat. Continue this for about 10 minutes to stretch out the plantar fascia and Achilles tendon. Another way to help relieve these pangs is to roll your foot over a tennis ball until it feels better.
Give them a work over. A massage can help relieve pain and swelling by moving around fluids that may have settled into your foot. Use the following technique: Use your fingertips to knead the ball of your foot, pressing along your sole until you reach your heel. Then gently push each toe back and forth to relax the muscles there.
Leave the operations to the doctors. Resist the urge to practice do-it-yourself surgery on a thickened callus or corn on the skin of your feet. You may lack the eyesight and coordination – not to mention the knowledge – required to safely treat your own feet. It is also advised against burning off thick skin with over the counter liquids containing salicylic acid.
These kind of things should be professionally take care of. If you had chest pain, you wouldn’t take care of it yourself.
Put your feet in padded cells. Wear shoes with enough cushioning to compensate for the loss of your foot’s natural padding. In one of life’s little ironies, the layers of fat that act as shock absorbers in your feet tend to shrink up as you get older and the rest of your body needs more protection from the force of walking. It is then recommended that you buy shoes with removable insoles so that you can switch the insoles with soft, insert-able cushions more to your own liking. These cushions are available at many variety stores and shoe stores that carry products for people with special footwear needs.