'Oh I wish I'd looked after me feet," said Mrs Figgis to me the other day, unwittingly paraphrasing the late, great Pam Ayers. Mrs Figgis's insights never cease to amaze, so I asked "Why?" with some interest. "Well," says she, "You can't go anywhere without them." Never was a truer word spoken. Foot problems, at a remove, may seem like a relatively minor issue but they can have quite a severe impact on your life.
Foot pain is extremely common in adults over the age of 40, and it has a multitude of causes, such as fallen arches, heel spurs, poor footwear or the onset of arthritis, to name but a few. But the upshot is the same - foot pain causes difficulty walking, which in turn affects your gait, causing you to limp or walk awkwardly, often resulting in knock-on pain in your knees, your hips or even your lower back. Difficulty walking affects how you live your life, where you choose to go or not go, and how you manage your daily activities. So foot pain can really impinge on your mobility and your independence.
Foot pain can also be a symptom of other conditions such as diabetes, which can cause a burning stinging nerve pain or neuralgia in the feet. This can be quite severe and can be associated with numbness or tingling. The numbness brings its own problems, as it's easier to injure feet that are numb - because pain acts as a warning sign that helps you avoid trauma. So people with diabetes tend to injure their feet more frequently than other people, and as diabetes also affects their healing, their feet can become infected or indeed ulcerated ,which causes huge problems for them so foot care is particularly important in the case of diabetes.
Circulation in the feet is decreased with age, causing coldness and numbness, particularly in the toes, and sometimes the foot to turn blue or even white. This also causes poor healing and leaves feet vulnerable. Poor circulation in the feet can be a sign of poor circulation elsewhere, and probably warrants your whole cardiovascular system being reviewed. Other issues like verrucas, plantar fasciitis and simple hard skin can also cause foot pain and difficulty walking - so what should you do to look after your feet?
Basic hygiene is important for starters. Changing your socks, washing and drying your feet and also allowing the air at them, will reduce the risk of athlete's foot or other skin infections. They say you can't understand a person unless you've walked a mile in their shoes - but if their shoes are crippling them, it's a given they're miserable. Comfortable, correctly fitting shoes that don't involve high heels will take the pressure off your small joints and avoid inflaming or precipitating bunions, but also importantly won't cause callouses or corns that can break down and ulcerate.
With ageing, arthritic change to the feet progresses, often leaving your toes pointing askew. Tight shoes that rub can make mincemeat of bony prominences, so cushioning these with corn plasters is a good idea. Callouses and verrucas should be pared back and treated.
Keep your nails short and don't cut them down at the sides to limit the chance of ingrown toenails, and fungal nail changes should be cut out and treated promptly.
Cold, numbness, pain or pins and needles in the feet should be checked out and of course if you are unable to self-care for your feet for any reason - for example, you can't reach them - then you need to attend a podiatrist regularly, who can care for your feet for you.
Remember - you only have one pair of feet and you'll need them all your life. When they're working well, we don't even notice them but when they're painful or have sores that wont heal, it's a different story. So toe the line and look after your feet. I'll get my coat.