February Articles 2014

Elderly and their Feet

While proper foot care is important for everybody, senior citizens have the tendency to be more susceptible to certain conditions and should therefore be well informed about problems that may arise and what they can do to properly avoid or treat them.

Some of the most common problems are foot ulcers, ingrown toenails, fallen arches, and fungal infection. A foot ulcer is an open sore on the foot and  can be a result of decreased sensation in the feet. An ingrown toenail is defined as when the nail grows into the side of the toe. Fallen arches are indicated by the instep of the foot collapsing. A fungal infection is a condition that results in deformed and discolored toenails.

In order to avoid these conditions it is recommended that the feet be inspected by the patient on a regular basis. If these inspections are carried out routinely, there is a good likelihood that problems can be identified before they become severe, or can even be avoided altogether. If any abnormality is discovered, it is important that the individual consult a doctor for diagnosis and information on treatment options.

Proper foot hygiene is also important. Making sure that you always have clean, dry socks on can be a major deterrent to many different problems including bacterial infections, foot odor, and certain types of fungus. Wet feet are a major cause of many of these problems.  If your socks get wet, it is important to change them. Walking around in wet socks may not only lead to various infections, but can irritate the skin and result in a number of various complications. Clean, dry feet are less likely to be affected by fungal and other infections.

As people age, the fat present on your feet begins to deteriorate. The protective nature of this fat keeps the feet healthy by providing a barrier and between your bones and the ground as well as giving the skin on the foot a certain amount of elasticity. This is one factor that causes elderly people to develop some serious foot issues. Foot moisturizers can be helpful to avoid certain problems associated with this. However, water-based moisturizers do not work as well for elderly people as they do for the young. Instead, it is more effective to use an emollient instead. An emollient is effective because it binds the water in the foot, keeping it from becoming absorbed too readily which will result in dry skin. They also have a special property called occlusion, which provides a layer of oil on the skin. This layer prevents the foot from drying up and can be very effective in treating dry skin disorders.  If you can keep the skin on your feet healthy, this will substantially reduce the number of foot problems you will encounter in old age.

Proper footwear is another way to keep feet healthy. Shoes that fit well and provide proper support help prevent ingrown toenails and fallen arches.

Certain medical conditions such as diabetes or poor blood circulation increase the risk for foot issues. For individuals with any of these conditions it is extremely important to conduct regular foot inspections to make sure that there are no sores or infections present.


Nerve Disorders of the Foot and Ankle

Similar to well known nerve disorders in the hands, such as carpal tunnel syndrome, nerve disorders that affect the foot and ankle occur in patients for reasons ranging from stress to genetics. Nerve disorders of the foot should be addressed right away because they may be immobilizing in serious cases. Two of the most common nerve disorders of the foot and ankle are Interdigital Neuroma and Tarsal Tunnel Syndrome.


Interdigital Neuroma is caused by localized inflammation of one of the nerves that controls toe sensitivity in the frontal area of the foot. This inflammation is generally only found in the second or third interspace, and any other symptoms similar to Neuroma on other digits should be checked against other disorders. Symptoms include chronic burning or tingling sensations between the affected toes which can, at times, migrate to the toes themselves. This pain is often increased by walking, running, or by wearing shoes that compress the toes, such as high heels. A doctor should be consulted if this pain is chronic and if the symptoms get worse.

Typical examinations to determine the presence of Neuroma include radiographs, MRIs, and even bone scans of the affected area. Bone scans are only required if degeneration of bone is suspected, however. Surgery is often not required to alleviate the symptoms of Neuroma, and in many cases functional orthotics can be used to alleviate the stress of constant weight on the affected toes. Surgery is recommended for those patients that suffer from symptoms for 6 months or more, so reporting symptoms early can increase the rate of non-surgical recovery.

Tarsal Tunnel Syndrome, a condition that is less common than Interdigital Neuroma, is similar to Carpal Tunnel Syndrome in that it is caused by a compression of the nerve caused by any number of factors (mostly associated with excess pronation). Typically seen in those that have either flatfeet or valgus heel positions, Tarsal Tunnel Syndrome has patients complaining of moderate to severe ankle pain that starts along the bottom of the foot and often proceeds to the calf. Some more extreme cases occur with partial numbness and even atrophy of the foot and surrounding muscles.

If there is a good chance that someone has Tarsal Tunnel Syndrome, an EMG test is often used to diagnose the condition.  If the diagnosis is positive, an MRI can be used to identify the compression of the nerve. Treatment with NSAIDS, functional orthotics, and rest off of the feet is often prescribed, but again, long standing symptoms require surgery, as do exacerbated symptoms caused by lesions present between nerves.



Sport Related Foot And Ankle Injuries

Foot and ankle injuries are common among people who participate in sports. Several factors contribute to this. They include failing to stretch or warm up properly, not wearing the proper type shoe and not taping or providing other types of support for the ankle or foot. The most common foot and ankle injuries suffered by people involved in sport are plantar fasciitis, ankle sprains and Achilles tendon damage or ruptures. If not treated properly they can lead to permanent disability.


Treating these injuries is relatively simple if they are identified and addressed early. Many athletes dismiss the initial aches and pains associated with injury as just soreness or tired muscles. Their first response is usually to try to work through it. This can lead to serious problems. Many minor injuries are made far more serious when athletes continue to put strain and pressure on them. That attitude can change a mild strain into a serious strain and a minor tear into a rupture. Athletes should have unusual aches and pains evaluated by a skilled, licensed medical professional.

Plantar fasciitis is a painful injury. It is inflammation of the plantar fascia, the thick fibrous band of tissue running from the heel to the base of the toes. Left untreated it can lead to a degenerative disease called plantar fasciosis. There are several effective treatments for this ailment. Doctors often proscribe rest, massages, stretching, night splints, physical therapy, anti-inflammatory medication, corticosteroids or surgery usually in that order. The most effective treatment for plantar fasciitis is orthotics like foot supports. Surgery is occasionally used as a last resort, but it comes with the risk of nerve damage and infection and often does not stop the pain.

The Achilles tendon is the largest tendon in the body. It connects the calf muscles to the heel bone. Running, jumping and walking all impact this tendon. Two common injuries to the Achilles tendon are tendonitis and a rupture of the tendon. Tendonitis is inflammation in the tendon often caused by an increase in the amount and intensity of stress placed on it. It can either be treated non-surgically with rest, ice or anti-inflammatory medication or surgery may be required. A rupture (tear) of the Achilles tendon can be treated by placing the lower leg in a cast for several weeks or with surgery. Many physicians feel surgery is the better option because it lowers the risk of re-ruptures. Both methods require 4 to 6 months of rehabilitation.

Ankle sprains are the most common sports related foot and ankle injury. A sprain occurs when the ligament holding the ankle bones and joint stretches beyond its normal range. It can be treated non-surgically with a combination of rest, ice wrapped around the joint for 30 minutes immediately after injury, compression by a bandage and elevating the ankle above the heart for 48 hours. This combination is referred to as RICE. Severe ankle sprains in which the ligaments are torn may require arthroscopic or reconstructive surgery followed by rehabilitation.


Diabetic Foot Care

Diabetes affects millions of people each year. Diabetes damages blood vessels in all parts of the body, including the feet. The legs and feet may have slow blood flow which causes neuropathy (nerve damage). Once a diabetic patient develops neuropathy, it is imperative that the feet are well taken care of to avoid amputation of the feet or legs.

It is important when caring for the feet of diabetics to always wash and thoroughly dry the feet, especially between the toes. Next, examine your feet and toes for any redness or sores that may be there, even if you do not feel any pain. You may also use a mirror to examine your feet from the bottom side. Avoid wearing colored socks to prevent infections that may occur from the dye used in them. Well-fitting socks are also highly recommended.

Anyone with diabetes should have their physicians to monitor Hemoglobin A1C levels as this test lets the physician know how well the blood sugar levels have been controlled during the past 3 months. It is very important to keep the blood sugar levels in the normal range (70-110mg/dl). There are medications that a physician may prescribe to help with neuropathy of the diabetic patient. It is also advisable to visit a podiatrist if the diabetic patient is experiencing any conditions involving the feet. Toe nails may need to be taken care of by a podiatrist as some patients may cut to deep or not deep enough around the cuticles and risk having an infection that could occur.

While at home a person can take care of their feet if they follow instructions given by their physician or nurse. An effective treatment is using creams and applying them to the heels due to the possibility of extreme dryness. Be careful when using tools to remove the calluses as severe diabetics may not be able to feel pain, and this can cause a severe wound to develop.

Diabetic feet absolutely need to be inspected on a daily basis. Always notify your health care professional with any concerns that you may have about the care of your feet. Waiting to see if a wound will get better is not a good idea as it can turn into a life threatening condition. Gangrene is a serious problem for diabetics and can lead to sepsis and amputation. Early treatment and daily inspection of the diabetic feet are keys to staying healthy.


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