(If you’re among the 1 in 4 Americans 45+ with foot pain, it’s time to take the right next step)
One of the most momentous sports injuries of all time wasn’t a gruesome knee tear or a blown-out shoulder. It was Joe DeMaggio’s heel spur, a painful bony protrusion said to have ended the New York Yankee’s career in 1951. But DiMaggio’s foot troubles didn’t end there. In 1990, nearly 40 years after he hung up his cleats, the athlete sought treatment again: He couldn’t play golf or even walk.
“Foot and ankle problems are not life-threatening, but they’re lifestyle-threatening,” explains podiatrist Rock Positano, director of the nonsurgical foot and ankle service at New York City’s Hospital for Special Surgery. Foot pain often is the triggering event that leads to musculoskeletal problems like knee, hip and back pain and ultimately to falls, loss of mobility or worse.
About 24 percent of people over 45 suffer from foot pain. By 70, that number’s more like 50 percent. But foot pain is not a normal part of aging, says New Jersey-based podiatrist Alan Bass. “I never say to my patients, ‘You’re getting older and these are just things that are happening.’”
DiMaggio’s injury and a failed surgery during his playing career were the big impetuses for nonsurgical musculoskeletal foot and ankle interventions in this country, says Positano, who successfully treated the retired player with a specialized brace.
Today, thanks in part to Joltin’ Joe, it’s easier than ever to resolve foot pain, often with orthopedics rather than by going under the knife. Here are some common places it may strike, and how to strike back.
BE A SHOE SNOB: Up to 72 percent of people wear shoes that don’t fit. That’s in part because your arches can drop as you age, lengthening your feet. In older people, wearing shoes that are too narrow has been linked with corns, bunions and pain; shorter shoes are linked with other deformities such as hammer toe and claw toe.
GET ON YOUR FEET: The more you sit, the more you deactivate your glute muscles—and proper foot function requires strong glutes, hips and abs, Splichal says. Exercises like hip bridges and planks encourage not only tummy work and hip extension (counterposes for sitting), but also help you practice getting up and down from the floor—something research has correlated with longevity.
FIGHT FIRE WITH FOOD: Inflammation can play a role in foot pain. For an anti-inflammatory effect, fill up on omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids via nuts, seeds, legumes, vegetables, fruits, olive oil and fish. A happy consequence: Mediterranean-type diets have been linked with reduced body weight, which can reduce force on the foot, relieving pain.
GO BAREFOOT: The nerves on the bottom of your feet are even more receptive than those on your hands—but stuffing your feet in shoes all day deprives them of the sensory stimulation they need to help your body move. Barefoot exercise such as yoga and Pilates, and walking around barefoot at home, can help.
PLAY BALL: Rolling your foot on a lacrosse or golf ball for five minutes a day provides the stimulation your foot craves, improving stability and movility by releasing tendons and fascial connections, says New York-based trainer Michael Ryan.
(Written by Cassie Shortsleeve for AARP Bulletin, May 2019)