“People always say to me: ‘My feet didn’t used to look like this!’” says podiatrist Margaret Dabbs. “Well, the fact is: they didn’t. Feet go through the ageing process in exactly the same way as the face does.”
My feet definitely didn’t used to look like they do now. Last week, the heels looked like a pair of old potatoes; so cracked and painful, I could barely walk in my Birkenstocks.
Never mind a trip to Glamorous Nails for that must-have, quarterly pedicure (a ritual I’ve enthusiastically embraced, as I’ve got older). My beauty regime may be low-maintenance but, thankfully, I do take a bit more care of my face than my feet.
Fortunately, as last week’s #Flatgate at Cannes proved, for red carpets and running around in, more and more women are opting for comfort over heels. Thankfully, the fashion industry has embraced this idea and navigating summer is so much easier when Birkenstocks, flatforms and shoes you can actually walk in, are in vogue.
According to Dabbs, as we age, the sweat glands in the feet are less active, causing drier skin, so the older we get, the more we need to pay attention to hydration levels.
“To help prevent and treat common foot complaints, good home care is necessary,” continues Dabbs. “With the right products and tools, the feet can be transformed. Start by foot filing — always on dry skin — once a week, and follow with a decent foot specific moisturiser. The results of good foot care are instant, and the feet not only look better but feel better too.” Having embarked on a DIY pre-Glamorous Nails pedicure over the last seven days, with a tub of O’Keefe’s Healthy Feet in hand, I can confirm this to be true.
One of my friends, Mary, a retired chiropodist, swears by Body Shop’s peppermint foot cream and this is a good place to pick up a foot file, too. As the V&A’s summer exhibition, Shoes: Pleasure & Pain, highlights, footwear is inextricably linked to both delight and discomfort. Having convinced myself that squeezing my feet into second-hand winkle-pickers as a teenage Human League fan was the cause of my deformed left foot, a quick look at the NHS website tells me that while badly fitting shoes can cause bunions, hallux valgus tends to run in families.
My brother inherited my dad’s good looks, and I got his bunions. Great. But I’m not alone. Another friend, Kate, a longtime Doc Marten lover, has just had an operation to remove hers. “I was never an avid heel-wearer but it just got to the point where the pressure of wearing shoes all day was making my foot really painful in the evening. The doctor’s surgery was full of 40- 60-year-olds with the same problem.”
Bunions can also be caused by changes in muscle structure that occur as we age and so it’s important to keep the big toe joint mobile. “Laxity in the soft tissues of the feet and poor gait can cause bunions,” points out Dabbs, “if it is allowed to stiffen up, the wear and tear around the big toe joint will increase and can lead to pain. The more mobile you can keep the joint, the slower the deterioration. You cannot reverse wear-and-tear changes [also known as osteo-arthritic changes] but by keeping the joint mobile, you can help to delay the onset of further crepitus of the joint and the accompanying pain. Yoga and Pilates are both excellent for keeping the feet well exercised.”
Other age-related physical changes include: thinning skin, subcutaneous fat loss (the feet lose their natural padding) and lax muscle structures “therefore good footwear is essential,” adds Dabbs.
The NHS guide is a good starting point. So, yes, it’s all about the comfy shoe now. “Good support is vital and will make sandals more comfortable. If you are wearing wedges, ensure the sole is not too solid and rigid. Good arch support is vital. If you are keen on heels, ensure that you vary the height of these. Ideally an inch and a half is the right heel height.”
— Guardian News & Media Ltd