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Foot and ankle pain: everything you need to know

As we age, joint and muscle pain become a part of our daily lives. Many older people suffer regularly owing to discomfort and immobility caused by illness in different areas of the body. One of the most universally experienced types of pain, however, is in the foot and ankle. Foot and ankle pain is exceptionally inconvenient as this restricts a basic need – walking. 

Dr Anuj Chawla (FAS) is a distinguished foot and ankle specialist in Delhi, with all the information you need about unease in your feet. This article will bring to your notice all the common causes of pain in your feet and ankle. 

A small overview on foot and ankle pain 

Throughout the years of our life, our feet undergo a lot of pressure. All the weight of our body concentrates on the surface of our feet. This puts tremendous pressure on the muscles, tissue, and bones of our legs, ankle-down. 

Over the years, our body’s mobility reduces due to several factors. These factors can either be systemic, i.e., involving blood vessels, nerves, etc. or they could be local, which includes wear and tear of joints, weak bones, deformities, etc. The wear and tear of joints in a person’s body can result in cartilage damage, which can be detrimental. 

Therefore, if you experience any signs of pain in your feet, you should consult a doctor right away and deal with the problem right at its root.

Here are some common causes of foot and ankle pain in the elderly: 

Corns / calluses 

Calluses refer to areas of thickened skin on the sole of the foot as a result of unbalanced pressure. By nature, the thick skin on our toes and heels are designed to withstand our body weight. But with time, the skin becomes prone to wear and tear. With increased pressure and decreased ability to bear it, calluses start appearing.

A callus can also hint towards underlying deformities in the feet. In some cases, it could also point towards an ulcer in a diabetic patient. It is strongly recommended that patients get their calluses checked by a foot and ankle specialist to address the problem in due time. 

Just like calluses, corns are thickened areas of the skin caused by uncomfortable footwear such as ill-fitting shoes. They are commonly seen on the outer part of the little toe and on the top skin of the small toes. Wearing well-fitting footwear is the only preventive measure one can take in this case.

Medical intervention is imperative in case corn or callus appears on the foot of a diabetic. Remedies such as corn caps and salicylic acid cream are available in the market. However, these are not recommended for people with diabetes or poor blood flow.  

Ingrown toenails 

Toes are that region of our body, which we generally neglect when it comes to hygiene. Keeping them cut and clean is fundamental to avoiding nail disorders. However, as we age, the flexibility in the joints, proper hand-eye coordination, and good vision is lost. As such, the elderly predispose themselves to nail disorders.

An ingrown nail is one such nail disorder that occurs when the side of a nail keeps growing underneath your skin. This is very painful and causes inflammation and redness. Ingrown nails can also intensify and lead to swelling and pus discharge. 

You can try some household remedies for ingrown toenails: 

  1. Soaking feet in warm water
  2. Cutting toenails straight
  3. Pushing away from the skin around the toe with a cotton ball
  4. Using over the counter medications or creams

Medical intervention involves taking oral or topical antibiotics. In the worst-case scenario, patients may have to undergo a surgical procedure to remove the nail.

Bunion 

A bunion is a deformity in the big toe where it aligns itself towards the second toe. Although it affects only the big toe, the pain can spread up to the third toe. The primary reason for bunions is the development of arthritis of the bones. However, wearing narrow-toed shoes in adulthood can also lead to the condition.  

Some remedies to relieve the pain caused by bunions are:

  1. Wearing proper shoes
  2. Exercising
  3. Equipment such as bunion pads, inserts, and arch supports

In extreme cases, the patient needs to get surgery to align the toe, where some tissue or bone from the toe might also be removed. These surgeries don’t take too long, and the patient can walk immediately afterward with a particular shoe. 

Flat feet 

With age, the arch of the foot (tibialis posterior) stretches out and reduces the arch height. This condition is termed Adult Acquired Flat Foot (AAFD). It is also known as Posterior Tibial Tendon Dysfunction (PTTD) as it occurs due to weakness in the posterior tibial tendon.

This causes several reasons for unease, as patients experience pain in the inner and outer regions of their ankle, accompanied by swelling. In some cases, patients note a change in the shape of their foot. This causes the heel and/or front of their foot to deviate outwards. These conditions are termed as heel valgus and forefoot abduction, respectively.

This condition can result in

  1. Sprains
  2. Overpronation
  3. Pain in the lower body
  4. Loss of stability

The treatment of flatfoot requires specialized knowledge in the biomechanics of the lower body region.

Flat feet are often treated with non-surgical methods at first, which includes using heel wedges, arch supports, and employing physiotherapy to strengthen the muscles of the foot. However, if these methods fail, heel shift procedures and tendon transfers are the opted methods.  

Arthritis/ osteoarthritis 

Arthritis is a condition that occurs due to wear and tear of the joints. Arthritis leads to inflammation, which can cause pain, loss of mobility in joints, and swelling. The big toe, subtalar joint, and ankle joint are the commonly hit areas, impairing the patient’s ability to walk with ease. 

Osteoarthritis entails the wearing away of the cartilage which protects the joints. While osteoarthritis is the most common, patients report cases of rheumatoid arthritis, gout, psoriatic arthritis, and post-traumatic arthritis. According to medical research, about half of the population above 60 years of age suffer from arthritis affecting their feet. 

While there is no research-based prevention measure for keeping arthritis at bay, there are some measures one can take to reduce its symptoms. These steps include:

  1. Wearing comfortable shoes
  2. Regular exercise
  3. Weight loss
  4. Massages
  5. Surgery (in some cases)

Surgical procedures involve cleaning of the joint (debridement), fusion (arthrodesis), and replacement (arthroplasty). 

Also, Read: All You Need to Know About Shoulder Arthritis and Shoulder Osteoarthritis

Conclusion 

Pain should not interfere with our quality of living, especially in this day and age of modern medicine. However, we must remain cautious of the causes of these diseases and take preventive measures to keep them away. 

If you are looking for a foot and ankle doctor in Delhi, book an appointment with Dr Anuj Chawla (FAS). He has long-standing experience in this field and is the best medical professional in the region for tackling these issues. 

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Author: Dr Anuj Chawla
Dr. Anuj Chawla is a distinguished orthopaedic surgeon with over 15 years of experience across several reputed institutions across the globe. He specializes in foot and ankle disorders, sports injuries, and geriatric trauma.
 
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