Just like every other part of our body, our feet show signs of age as we get older. I tell my patients that foot pain is just a sign of growing up, which sometimes makes them chuckle, but the truth is it happens to us all one day and most people can get great relief with appropriate treatment. Four out of five people report serious foot pain at one stage in their lives, and a trip to your local podiatrist might just be the answer.
The human foot is a strong, mechanical structure that contains 26 bones, 33 joints, and more than 100 muscles, tendons and numerous ligaments. But we ask a lot of our feet in day to day life.
For example, over the course of a normal day the force that our feet impart would be in the order of hundreds of tons, or the equivalent of a fully loaded cement truck. That’s every day! Jumping down off a step with the forces of gravity can mean that we reach up to 9 times our body weight through our feet.
Have you ever thought how amazing the architecture is in the human foot? With 26 bones in each foot, that totals one quarter of all the bones in our body and each bone is laid out into archways, the most efficient architectural position.
Just like the stone arch bridges that were built by the Romans, such as the Pond Du Gard in the South of France, which is still standing over 2000 years after it was built, the arched structure can be very resilient. These stone bridges that have stood for millennia all have one thing in common, a keystone. The last stone that was laid in each arch is the keystone and it is the most important stone in the entire archway because it locks the arch into a stable position.
Unlike stone bridges the human foot arches are very mobile and rely heavily on ligamentous and muscular support to help hold them up under the effects of gravity as we walk around some 216 Million steps, or 170,000km in our lifetime. The other problem is that our feet were designed to walk on softer surfaces like dirt, grass and sand, not hard concrete and ceramic floor tiles. Over time the arches can begin to collapse which causes strain on the ligament that supports the arch, the plantar fascia. This causes a very painful and debilitating condition called plantar fasciitis, where the ligament pulls off the heel bone, due to over-stretching.
It also leads to compression between the bones as the keystone begins to drop, leading to wear and tear of the protective articular cartilage on the bones, resulting in osteoarthritis. This is a relentlessly progressive condition that only gets worse as we age, so it’s best to wear good shoes with a firm heel counter, cushioned soles and some arch support, especially if you are standing on hard surfaces that further flattens your arches. Other problems that occur are bunions, calluses and tightening of the calf muscles especially if we don’t stretch anymore
Fat pad atrophy, where the cushioned fat pad under our feet wears out is also common in older feet. Fat pad syndrome requires treatment with cushioning and arch support to redistribute the pressure away from the bony prominences under the foot.
Podiatry is covered under some levels of private health insurance, DVA, WorkCover and Medicare Team Care Arrangements and there are many things that your local podiatrist can do to help, so don’t let foot pain hold you back any longer.
Podiatrist & Co-Founder of my FootDr podiatry centres.