“Oh, my aching feet!” If you are older than 60, you may find yourself saying those words often. According to the Arthritis Foundation, close to half of people in their sixties and seventies suffer from arthritis foot pain. In fact, the damage starts even sooner: Beginning in your forties, your feet begin to show wear and tear, explains Dennis Frisch, DPM, a Boca Raton, Fla.-based podiatrist. Osteoarthritis, the most common kind of arthritis, occurs over time and by overuse. The cartilage between the bones at your pivotal joints wears away. As a result, your bones grind against each other, causing pain and swelling. Very often osteoarthritis also causes degeneration of the cartilage at the base of your big toe. Bony spurs then develop at the joint there, followed by pain and decreased motion of the joint. When arthritis pain affects your feet, it can make walking nearly impossible. Although arthritic feet are a chronic condition that won’t go away, these strategies can provide some relief.
See Your Doctor
If you have (or suspect you have) foot arthritis, have your feet checked by a rheumatologist or podiatrist at least once a year, Frisch says. “We recommend yearly visits to be sure there aren’t any changes in your feet and to see whether any devices you may have been given, such as braces or orthotics, are working appropriately. And if you’re having pain, don’t wait for your yearly visit. See your doctor right away.”
Pick the Right Shoes
Wearing comfortable, supportive shoes is key. Shoes should be wide enough so that they don’t press on any bunions or calluses. Skip the high heels because they put more pressure on the balls of your feet. Arch support is essential to stabilize joints that are moving more than they should, which can happen with arthritis, explains Frisch. The toning athletic shoes that are popular these days can be a good choice for foot health. “Their rocker-bottom soles do some of the work that the foot doesn’t want to do,” he says. Stretch Your Achilles Tendons You probably don’t think about getting your feet in shape the way you do your stomach or your thighs. But exercising your feet can help increase your flexibility and mobility, important when you have arthritis. Good exercises involve stretching your Achilles tendon (the cord at the back of your heel) as well as the tendons in the balls of your feet and toes. A good exercise for arthritic feet can be as simple as wiggling your toes. Frisch has his patients use the TV as an exercise aid. “When a commercial comes on, use that time to wiggle,” he says. Just don’t overdo: “Stretching is good to help joint mobility, but don’t do it to the point where you’re hurting yourself.”
Get a Foot Massage
Aaah … who doesn’t love a relaxing massage? The soothing effects of massage aren’t just great for your back or shoulders. Massaging your feet may sometimes provide arthritis relief, Frisch says. Knead the balls of your feet as well as your toes, starting at the top and working your way down to the base. You can do it yourself or ask your partner to help you.
Use Orthotic Devices
Canes, braces, shoe inserts — your specific problem will determine what you need, Frisch says. Some people find relief simply by tapping their toes together. For others, a cane helps with stability. Still, others find relief from shoe inserts because they can correct misalignments and distribute your weight more evenly over the bottom of your feet. You can buy shoe inserts over the counter or have them custom-made.