Most men and women have logged some 75,000 miles on foot by the time they reach 50 — the equivalent of circling Earth three times at the equator. Although feet are built to take this punishment in stride, wear-and-tear problems can develop over time. In fact, 77 percent of adults said they have had a foot ailment and half say they experience foot pain, according to the a 2010 survey from the American Podiatric Medical Association.
"People tell me their feet hurt because they're getting older and it's a natural part of aging," says Martin Pressman, DPM, assistant clinical professor of orthopedics and rehabilitation at the Yale School of Medicine. "That's not true. Pain is a sign of trouble." So don't procrastinate about seeing a foot doc. You'll have an easier time if you deal with the problem early.
Here's what you — and your foot doctor — can do to ease the pain of four common foot problems.
1. Bunions and Bunionettes
A misalignment of the bones in the big toe causes an enlargement of the joint at the base of the big toe. The smaller bunionette occurs on the other side of the foot near the little toe. The constant pressure of too-narrow shoes can cause a bunion on one side and a bunionette on the other. Treatment is essentially the same for both.
- A prominent bump on the outside edge of the foot
- Redness, swelling or tenderness at the joint
- Restricted or painful movement of the toe
Bunions develop when the bone at the joint moves out of place toward the second toe. Wearing narrow shoes that squeeze the toes together is a major cause. Bunions also tend to run in families, and flat-footed people are more likely to develop them than others.
What you can do
- Wear comfortable, low-heeled shoes with plenty of room for your toes and use doughnut-shaped bunion cushions to take the pressure off the joint.
- If the bunion is inflamed and painful, use an ice pack for about 20 minutes two or three times a day for relief.
What your doctor can do
Your doctor can show you how to tape and pad your foot to reduce stress on the bunion and ease the pain. She may recommend over-the-counter or prescription arch supports to provide relief. If those treatments don't work, you may need surgery. Newer procedures have cut recovery time from three months to six weeks. One uses screws to align and stabilize the bone, and another, called a "tightrope bunionectomy," uses a surgical suture threaded between tiny holes drilled in two adjacent bones to hold the bones in place.
2. Morton's Neuroma
If you feel as if you have a pebble in your shoe or that your sock is bunched up under your toes each time you take a step, you may have a Morton's neuroma, a pinched nerve in the foot named for Philadelphia surgeon T.G. Morton, who wrote about it in 1876.