As you age, your feet tend to spread and lose the fatty pads that cushion the bottom of your feet. If you are carrying extra weight, the bones and ligaments take an extra beating. Also, any abnormalities that you were born with can become more pronounced or painful as your foot joints lose their flexibility and become more rigid with age. Poorly fitting shoes make foot problems worse and actually cause many of them. The skin of your feet also gets drier with age, which means that infections can occur more easily.
Specific causes differ depending upon the particular foot problem.
This deformity of the foot may be an inherited trait but may also result from many years of friction due to ill-fitting footwear. Flat feet, gout, and arthritis also increase your chance of developing a bunion.
Corns and Calluses
Corns are caused by friction from poorly fitted shoes or socks or from toes rubbing against each other. Calluses are similar to corns, but develop on the ball or heel of your foot.
Hammertoes are caused by abnormal tension in the muscles and tendons around the toe joints, causing them to buckle or flex. Eventually the joint becomes rigid.
Ingrown toenails (usually on the big toe) are caused by inherited abnormalities, trimming nails in an arch instead of straight across, injury to the toe, infection, or friction from poorly fitted shoes.
Abnormally thick, cracked, and yellowing toenails may be caused by fungal infections, friction from shoes, injuries, or conditions such as diabetes or psoriasis.
Diabetic Foot Problems
Diabetes may cause reduced sensation in feet, making it hard to realize that the foot is injured. Also, diabetes impairs the blood flow in your feet, so infections can be harder to fight.
Arthritic Foot Problems
Osteoarthritis, gout, and rheumatoid arthritis are among the conditions that can cause severe foot pain.
A condition such as plantar fasciitis may be caused by poor foot mechanics, such as an overly flattened or overly arched foot. In either case, the fascia—the connective tissue running along the bottom of your foot—may become irritated and painful.
Painful heel spurs are small bone growths that appear when the ligament running along the sole of your foot tugs repeatedly on the heel bone.
Flat feet and its opposite—an abnormally high arch (claw foot or hollow foot)—are caused by an Achilles tendon (the vertical tendon behind the ankle) that is either too tight or too loose. These conditions are usually inherited, but flat feet may also develop after years of wearing high-heeled shoes. In this case, the condition is known as posterior tibial tendon dysfunction (PTTD). Flat feet are also linked to obesity, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, or the use of steroids.
Tarsal Tunnel Syndrome
A nerve called the posterior tibialis nerve may get trapped, causing irritation and painful symptoms.
If you are obese, you may develop Achilles tendonitis from years of extra stress on the tendon. It is also associated with an inherited shortened Achilles tendon or from wearing high-heeled shoes. Sudden severe Achilles tendonitis or even a ruptured Achilles tendon may occur as a side effect of certain antibiotics such as levofloxacin or ciprofloxacin.
In this condition, thickened tissue wraps around the nerves that lead to your toes. It is usually due to overly tight shoes, arthritis, injury, or malformed bones. The result is nerve compression and pain.
Risk Factors for Foot Problems
You are at higher risk of developing foot problems in later life in the presence of any of the following factors:
- Frequent wearing of poorly fitted, pointy, or high-heeled shoes
- Diabetes (especially if you have calluses or corns, poor circulation, loss of sensation, or poor eyesight)
- Neuropathy (loss of sensation) in the feet and ankles
- Other types of nerve or muscle damage (hammertoes)
- Occupations that involve a lot of standing
- Injuries to the feet, toes or ankles
- Abnormal blood vessels
- Flat feet or highly arched feet
- Walking often on hard surfaces
Last Updated June 2020