Do you now find yourself forfeiting fashion for comfort when it comes to your shoes? As we age, many of us make wiser choices regarding our footwear because our feet look and feel their age! Our tootsies have endured far more punishment than the rest of our body parts, and now they cry out for more tender loving care. Why do our feet hurt, especially as we travel north of age 50?  There are several painful/uncomfortable foot problems that can develop, especially as we become more seasoned, and here are just a few…

hammer toe

Bunions: Bunions are more prevalent among African-Americans than in whites, according to various studies on foot disorders. A bunion is a prominent bony protrusion that forms at the base of the big toe and causes it to push against the next toe. It is the result of a misalignment or repositioning of foot bones. Even though most bunions affect the inner foot at the big toe’s base, one can also form on the outside of the foot at the little toe’s base, often referred to as a bunionette or tailor’s bunion. Bunions can be inherited, caused by weak foot anatomy, or even arthritis. Folks with flat feet also tend to get bunions as well.

A bunion can be painful, particularly when a tight shoe is pressing against it. If your bunion makes walking unbearable, you might want to consult an orthopedic doctor who will order x-rays. You might also get blood work if a doctor suspects that a type of arthritis like gout or an infection might be causing the pain. Once your doctor reviews the test results, they will discuss the best way to treat your bunion, including orthopedic shoes, custom-made inserts, medication, surgery, or other treatment options. You might consider a heating pad, warm foot bath, or ice pack to ease immediate bunion pain.


Plantar fasciitis: A widespread foot problem that causes excruciating heel pain, especially when you get up in the morning and begin to walk. Plantar fasciitis or a heel spur is caused by an injury to the plantar fascia, which is the tough connective tissue that stretches from the heel to the ball of the foot that helps support the arch. Having a high arch, flat feet, wearing non-supportive shoes for a long time, and obesity can all lead to plantar fasciitis.

A diagnosis for plantar fasciitis is made when a physician performs any of these tests—x-ray, bone scan, ultrasound, or MRI, to rule out such issues as arthritis, fracture, tendinitis, cyst, nerve entrapment, or other trauma. Treatment for plantar fasciitis can include plantar fascia and calf stretching exercises, supportive/well-cushioned shoes; the avoidance of flat shoes like flip-flops and walking barefoot; massage therapy, ice application, weight loss, NSAIDs (Advil, Motrin), orthotics (shoes with thick soles and extra cushioning), physical therapy, and cortisone injections.

Someone with plantar fasciitis might not want to stand for long periods and should steer clear of high-impact activities like basketball or tennis. The heel pain can usually be treated without surgery. However, it might take months for the pain to subside. If pain is still an issue after 12 months of conservative treatments, surgery might be considered, but complications can include incomplete pain relief and nerve damage.

nail fungus

Nail fungus: When a toenail becomes yellowish, infected, and becomes thick, discolored, breaks easily (brittle), or falls off repeatedly, it probably has a fungus. The condition can affect other nails as well. If the fungus is mild and not really bothering you, a doctor’s visit might not be necessary. However, a trip to your healthcare provider is recommended if the fungus is painful or you are a diabetic. Nail fungus is more common in older adults and can also be caused by a skin or nail injury, skin conditions like psoriasis or athlete’s foot, circulatory issues, sweating profusely, or walking barefoot in communal areas like public pools, gyms, and showers rooms.

A bad case of nail fungus can permanently damage your toenails. If you suffer from diabetes, a nail fungus can put you at risk for cellulitis, a potentially serious bacterial skin infection that feels hot and tender to the touch. To avoid a nail fungus infection, you should practice such sanitary habits as bathing regularly, disinfecting clippers after use, wearing footwear in pool areas and locker rooms, sporting shoes made out of breathable materials, and sweat-absorbing socks that should be changed daily.


Corns and calluses: These thick and hardened layers of skin have plagued many of us for eons and can worsen with age. If you have a compromised system with a condition like diabetes, for example, that can cause poor blood flow to the feet, having corns and calluses puts you at risk for complications like foot ulcers (infected open sore), especially if you try and care for them yourself and wind up nicking the area. Corns are smaller than calluses and have hard centers surrounded by inflamed skin, and when pressed, they can be painful. Calluses are more prominent than corns and less painful. They can typically be found on the heels or balls of your feet.

Corns and calluses can be caused by pressure and constant friction like from ill-fitting shoes and not wearing socks while your feet are in shoes. Foot deformities such as bunions, hammer toe, and bone spurs can also bring corns and calluses. To prevent these annoying foot problems, only wear shoes that give your feet lots of room and use felt pads or bandages to protect those areas that rub against shoes.

Hammer toe: When the second, third or fourth toe is bent at the middle joint, it is referred to as hammer toe. Folks whose toes curl up typically have corns or calluses in the middle of their affected toes; sufferers might also feel pain and have problems finding comfortable shoes. Hammer toe develops because shoes don’t fit properly or there’s a muscle imbalance. Muscles work uniformly to straighten and bend toes, so if they are bent, and in one position for too long, they tighten and can’t stretch out. Once a hammer toe develops, you just can’t reposition it to make it feel more comfortable in shoes.

Orthopedic doctors initially tend to go the conservative route when treating hammer toe and recommend soft shoes with roomy toe boxes. Exercises that stretch and lengthen muscles might also be something sufferers could try. Using your toes to pick things up, putting a towel flat under your feet, then using your toes to crumple it are exercises to try and help improve the condition. Hammer toe sufferers should avoid high heels because wearing them worsens the toe bend causing them to become more pronounced. Surgery is a last resort for hammer toe.

Athlete’s foot: Caused by a fungus that likes warm, dark, moist environments, athlete’s foot commonly affects the areas between the toes and the bottoms of the feet. It can inflame the skin that results in a white, scaly rash with a red base. Other symptoms of athlete’s foot to look for include itching, burning, peeling, and odor.

You can lower your risk of athlete’s foot (also called tinea pedis) by keeping your feet clean and regularly changing your shoes and socks, and avoid walking barefoot in public locker rooms and showers. Over-the-counter antifungal creams/sprays can possibly treat athlete’s foot, disinfectant sprays, and antifungal powders can be used inside your shoes to wipe out lingering fungus.

If the OTC meds fail, you may have to see a health practitioner for prescription meds. If left unchecked, athlete’s foot can spread to other body parts. The fungal infection can also spread to other folks via shared floors, gym mats, towels, and various surfaces.

People with diabetes or poor circulation should discuss any foot issues with their doctors before trying any self-help measures.

For more information on foot problems contact the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons–www.aaos.org