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Foot problems in the elderly

Written by Caidr's team of doctors and pharmacists based in UK | Updated: 20.02.2023 | 4 min read

For those with advanced years, it can become more difficult to care for your feet for a number of reasons. Firstly, you may have joint and dexterity issues in reaching your feet and using tools to maintain care, such as clipping toenails. Secondly, you may have medical conditions that put your feet at risk, such as a lack of feeling in the nerves in advanced diabetes, which might cause infection or poor circulation, putting you at risk of chilblains, eczema, and ulcers.

Components in the skin that keep it stretchy, plump, and well-nourished reduce with age, so you may be at higher risk of dry and cracked skin or skin more likely to tear or ulcerate.

We’ve compiled a list of common foot problems for you to be aware of. But it may be worth investing in regular foot care, with either a podiatrist or even at your local beauty salon, to keep your tootsies in tip-top condition.


Bunions are hardened lumps that occur on the side of your big toes. They may cause your big toe to point inward toward the other toes. Bunions can become painful, especially when walking or with shoes. In this case, you can try simple measures such as avoiding tight shoes, taking simple painkillers like acetaminophen or ibuprofen, and using an icepack.

Feet may be more comfortable with pads to cushion bunions while out and about, and you can buy these from your local pharmacy.

Your doctor may refer you to a podiatrist, or you can refer yourself. They will consider specially-made supports to help with the pain, such as insoles (orthotics), toe spacers, and toe supports (splints). 

Bunion surgery is the only cure for bunions but may not prevent bunions from recurring. Bunion surgery is not usually done unless under certain circumstances, such as significant pain or affecting the way you walk. Surgery for aesthetic reasons is usually not covered by insurance.

Corns and calluses

Corns and calluses are often used interchangeably, but they are slightly different. Corns are hard lumps, and calluses are thick, rough skin patches. They happen over time from repetitive friction of your feet rubbing against shoes. Although some think they can look unsightly, they do not cause serious problems. 

It’s best to buy supportive equipment and footwear to reduce any friction. This can be in the form of thicker socks, insoles, or corn pads, available from your local pharmacy. Wide comfortable footwear is also important to give your foot space to move. You can try to soften corns and calluses at home with warm water and then moisturize and file them down with specific equipment.

If you have diabetes, heart disease, or poor circulation, you should see your doctor. Your doctor may refer you to a specialist for advice regarding your condition or refer you to a podiatrist.

If there are any signs of infection, your doctor may offer antibiotics, or they may suggest that you see a podiatrist for removal, either by cutting them out or trying alternative treatments. 

Ingrown toenail

An ingrown toenail is where your nail grows into the skin alongside the toe, causing you pain, especially when walking or standing. It can lead to an infection, which you will recognize by stronger pain, swelling, redness, pus, and possibly feeling unwell.

Management of ingrown toenails involves letting the toenail grow out, you should avoid cutting it. Try this technique to keep it clean, soften the skin, and relieve pain: soak your foot in warm water with potassium permanganate crystals multiple times daily. Symptoms can also be helped by wearing comfortable, wide-fitting shoes, or open-toed sandals, if weather permits.

You should see your doctor if you have diabetes, which can worsen foot problems. You may even have direct access to a podiatrist, who may be able to help with an ingrown toenail. If there are any signs of infection, your doctor will need to prescribe antibiotics.

If you still require treatment for your ingrown toenail, you should see a podiatrist. With some local anesthetic injection, they can either cut away part of the nail or the whole nail. 

Fungal toenail infection

Fungal toenail infection is recognizable as the nail (or nails) turning yellow/brown and thickened, crumbly, and soft. You can manage this in several ways: firstly, try some treatments from your pharmacists, such as antifungal nail cream or nail lacquer. You must be patient with this, as it can take up to 12 months to cure the infection. Keep your nails as short as possible to help clear the infection and avoid the other nails catching the infection.

For hardened nails, it's worth using nail softening creams – persist with this for several weeks to soften the nails and then scrape away the fungus.

With severe fungal infection (if most of one nail is affected, or multiple nails are affected, or if home treatments haven't helped), book an appointment with your doctor or a podiatrist. They will take nail clippings and send these to the laboratory for confirmation. If this proves to be a fungal infection, you may be prescribed oral antifungal tablets that need to be taken for at least three months. Toenails often require at least 6 months of treatment.

These medications have side effects, so your doctor will need to check your medical history and do some baseline blood tests before they can start you on them. A podiatrist can also soften, trim and remove the fungal area from the nail. 

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