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Many Miles—and More to Go—on My Amazing Feet

elderly woman giving herself a foot massage

“The human foot is a masterpiece of engineering and a work of art.”—Leonardo da Vinci

Have you ever wondered how many miles you have traveled by foot in your lifetime? Regardless of how far you have walked, we know one thing for sure—our feet are amazing!

The complex structure of 26 bones and 33 joints, intertwined with 120 muscles, ligaments, and nerves support our body weight, act as shock absorbers, and help keep us balanced. Compared to the rest of the body, the impact that feet take when we walk is tremendous. The force of several tons is placed on our feet every single day.

As we age, our body changes, including our feet. Many problems can develop, including:

  • Dry skin and loss of tone. With dry, cracked skin, it is easier to get a skin infection.
  • Loss of subcutaneous support (fatty tissue between your skin and muscle)
  • Brittle toenails and foot fungus.
  • Decreased blood flow or circulation to the legs and feet
  • Foot pain—about 75 percent of Americans saying they have had some foot pain during their lives. Pain may indicate injury, bone changes, or arthritis. One factor contributing to foot pain can be shoes that don’t fit well.
foot care flyer

Click on the image above to read our foot care self-management plan. See all of our self-management plans here.

Foot problems can also be a sign of a more serious medical conditions; for instance, if you have neuropathy (weakness, numbness, and pain from nerve damage), you may have diabetes.

During much of the time we’ve lived with COVID-19 restrictions, foot care was not provided by podiatrists or foot care nurses. These professionals play a critical role in treating foot care issues and preventing diabetic and vascular foot ulceration. Fortunately, some are beginning to restart their practices; however, foot care is forever changed with use of personal protective equipment, physical distancing, and accessibility.

There are some misunderstandings about taking care of your feet. Let’s test our understanding:

  1. Soaking your feet is ok. True or False?

True, if done only occasionally and in lukewarm water. Technically, we discourage soaking. It doesn’t matter if it’s done occasionally. But many readers probably hold a belief that soaking feet (for example, in Epsom salt water) is therapeutic. Many health providers think that, too; however, it’s not! Soaking feet can lead to problems such as infections. The basin may hold bacteria that can migrate into skin cracks or sores (for instance, if the basin was previously used as a dog’s water bowl or a mop bucket). Also, if the water is too hot, it can cause burns.

  1. Always put lotion all over your feet, including between the toes. True or False?

False. Use moisturizing cream on your legs and feet every day but do not use it between your toes.

  1. Any over the counter lotion will work for dry, cracked skin. True or False?

False

  1. Foot pain can be related to ill-fitting shoes. True or False?

True

  1. Foot problems can be a sign of other medical conditions. True or False?

True

Here are a few ways you can prevent damage to your feet:

  • Check your feet regularly.
  • Massage your feet gently.
  • Keep your feet dry and clean, especially between your toes.
  • Change your socks and shoes often.
  • Put your feet up when sitting or lying down.
  • Avoid sitting for long periods of time and avoid crossing your feet when you sit.
  • Stretch after sitting for any period of time.

Mary Pat O’Leary, RN, MSN, Aging and Disability ServicesContributor Mary Pat O’Leary, RN, BSN, a planner at Aging and Disability Services, is grateful for Dr. Julia Overstreet’s review and input. Dr. Overstreet is a podiatrist and wound care specialist with 25 years of clinical experience, including 18 years as the director of the Overstreet Wound Care Center in Bellevue. She serves as the director and principal presenter for Rainier Medical Education program and lectures regularly on advanced wound care for the University of Washington.

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