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Posted: January 28, 2011

Keeping Seniors Healthy

If the Shoe Fits . . . A Tale of Feet Growing in Old Age

Q.  Over the years (I’m 68), I’ve been buying larger shoes. Could it be that my feet are getting bigger, or is it that I’ve gradually begun to prefer shoes with more room in them?

A. Feet do get bigger over decades of pounding. Some people over the age of 40 can gain half a shoe size every 10 years. I know my feet are larger than they used to be. When I was in my twenties, I wore a 10 ½ shoe; in my sixties, I’m wearing a size 12.

The foot is a complicated machine. It contains 26 bones, 33 joints, and more than 100 tendons, muscles, and ligaments.

With age, feet flatten out because the supporting tendons and ligaments lose their elasticity. As the tendon along the length of the sole elongates, the arch lowers. This condition contributes to bunions, which are inflamed swellings of the small fluid-filled sacs on the first joints of the big toes.

Another reason feet enlarge is that the force of your weight thins the fat pads cushioning the bottom of the feet. The loss of padding can cause corns and calluses, which are protective layers of compacted, dead skin cells. Thinner pads also lead to soreness.

Not all older people notice the reality that their feet have been getting bigger. A recent study of senior patients at a US Department of Veterans Affairs hospital found that three quarters of them were wearing shoes that were too small.

Properly fitted shoes are important to the health of your feet. The following are some pointers to remember when buying shoes:

* The uppers on shoes should be made of a soft material that can match the shape of your foot.

* Leather shoes reduce the possibility of skin irritations.

* If you buy new shoes with leather soles, rough up the surfaces before walking, especially on carpet.

* Consider thick soles to cushion your feet if you have to walk on hard pavement. This is an important consideration if you are visiting countries such as Italy, which has many cobblestone streets.

* Opt for low-heels. They are more comfortable and safer.

* The best time to measure your feet is at the end of the day when your feet are largest.

* Most of us have one foot that is larger than the other, so fit your shoe to your larger foot.

* Don't select shoes by the size marked inside the shoe but by how the shoe fits your foot.

* When fitting shoes, make sure there is about a half-inch extra space for your longest toe when you are standing.

* Make sure the ball of your foot fits comfortably into the widest part of the shoe.

* Your heel should fit comfortably in the shoe with a minimum amount of slipping. The shoes should not ride up and down on your heel when you walk.

* Walk in the shoes to make sure they fit and feel right. Then take them home and spend some time walking on carpet to make sure the fit is a good one.

Fred Cicetti is a freelance writer who specializes in health. He has been writing professionally since 1963. Before he began freelancing, he was a reporter and columnist for three daily newspapers in New Jersey. He has written two published novels: Saltwater Taffy, and Local Angles. You can send your health-related questions to Fred at

© 2011 Pederson Publishing, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Commercial use, redistribution or other forms of reuse of this information is strictly prohibited without the prior written permission of Pederson Publishing.
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