Aging Boomers' Feet Starting to Fail Them Now

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They danced in muddy fields at Woodstock and slogged through Vietnamese jungles. They pushed strollers and climbed corporate ladders by day and danced away evenings of Macarena and electric slide. They endured deadly stilettos, saddle shoes, go-go boots, plastic platforms, Earth shoes, jellies and joggers and, perversely, stilettos again.

But as baby boomers stride into the senior years, the feet that stood by them so long are wearing out.

Toes, straight and true for generations, start to curl. Tendons tear after years of stairs. Arches that stood a hundred million steps fall.

“We’ve got a baby boomer population aging here, and we’re seeing the breakdown of the foot,” said Dr. John Mozena, a Portland podiatrist.

Two great demographic shifts have the nation limping and wincing into an era of bad feet: The average American is now older and fatter than at any time in history.

Age and weight are hard on joints and arteries and many other body parts. But the feet take a special beating.

“The foot, more than any other structure in the body, is very mechanical,” said Dr. Matthew Bookwalter, a podiatrist with The Portland Clinic. “It’s a lever. And it has load limits.”

And the foot’s parts can fail over time with the incredible stress of thousands of steps a day. “If you have biomechanical, structural problems in your foot, the effects of those are going to show up as you age,” said Dr. James Christina, director of scientific affairs for the American Podiatric Medical Association. A survey by that group showed that foot pain limits the daily activity of nearly 19 percent of U.S. residents, and almost 29 percent of people ages 51 to 60.

High-stress practices, from running to wearing fashionable but uncomfortable shoes, also take a toll over time.

In a 2001 survey by the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, four in 10 women who wore heels reported wearing the wrong size and eight in 10 reported foot pain. Most cited style as their reason for wearing painful shoes.

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