From our first steps as a child, we depend on our feet to carry us through life. For the average lifetime, that’s an estimated 115,000 miles of walking—the equivalent of circling the globe four times on foot.

“Our feet are extremely complex structures,” says Richard Amundsen, DPM, a podiatrist affiliated with Dignity Health Yavapai Regional Medical Center (YRMC).  “There’s a tremendous amount of mechanical demand on the feet. And after a lifetime of use, things can wear out.”

Want to make sure your feet are healthy for the long haul? Here are five common foot problems people experience as they age and suggestions on how to manage them.

1. Osteoarthritis
Often referred to as “wear and tear” arthritis, this is a degenerative joint disease that gradually leads to the breakdown of cartilage and other tissue.

  • Symptoms: Decreased range of motion, swelling, bones that seem bigger, and an achiness that intensifies over time.
  • Treatment options: Focus on reducing symptoms, managing pain, and decreasing inflammation through low-impact exercises, like biking and swimming. Your health care provider may also recommend physical therapy, steroid injections, oral steroids, or anti-inflammatory medications. In extreme cases, surgery may be necessary to either replace or fuse joints.

2. Peripheral Arterial Disease (PAD)
This is a serious vascular disease that causes blockages or narrowing in the veins and arteries. It also restricts blood flow from the heart to the toes.

  • Symptoms: Fatigue, pain, discomfort, or a heaviness in the legs.
  • Treatment options: Lifestyle changes – a healthy diet and regular exercise – are typically recommended for PAD patients. Some people may also need medication or surgery. Early detection is important as PAD can be dangerous if left untreated. Contact your provider immediately if you experience symptoms. You may be referred to a cardiologist, interventional cardiologist, or a vascular surgeon for treatment.

3. Neuropathy (also known as peripheral neuropathy)
This condition occurs when the nerves are no longer able to communicate properly between the feet and the brain. Neuropathy can be caused by diabetes, chemotherapy, immunotherapy, traumatic injuries, infections, metabolic problems, inherited causes, exposure to toxins (such as overuse of alcohol), and more.

  • Symptoms: Numbness, tingling, lack of sensation in the lower extremities, and odd or painful sensations.
  • Treatment options: Embracing preventative measures and addressing the root cause of neuropathy is important. If you have diabetes, work with your health care provider to effectively manage your blood sugar levels. Some people may need to quit consuming alcohol. Once the cause of neuropathy is diagnosed, your provider may prescribe medication or recommend supplements, such as vitamin B complex and alpha lipoic acid. No matter the cause of the condition, everyone with neuropathy should make sure their shoes fit properly.

“Something as simple as a tight shoe can cause a blister and lead to a non-healing wound,” Dr. Amundsen says. “It’s important for anyone who has neuropathy to have the right foot gear – shoes and socks – and to check their feet frequently.”

4. Plantar Fasciitis
This painful condition flares up when the thick band of soft tissue (fascia) that connects the heel with the rest of the foot becomes irritated and inflamed.

  • Symptoms: Stabbing pain on the bottom of the foot near the heel that may improve with movement and worsen after prolonged periods of standing.
  • Treatment options: Ice, rest, steroid injections, physical therapy, oral steroids, and proper footwear with orthotics to balance the heel are all used to treat plantar fasciitis.

5. Achilles Tendinitis
Weekend athletes – especially tennis and basketball players as well as joggers who suddenly intensify their runs – are particularly susceptible to Achilles tendinitis.

  • Symptoms: Achilles tendinitis begins as a mild ache in the back of the leg, or above the heel, and gets worse with prolonged activity. People with the condition also experience painful stiffness in the same area in the morning.
  • Treatment options: Ice, physical therapy, heel lifts, and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications are recommended for Achilles tendinitis.

Keeping your feet on a healthy path
“I talk to my patients about staying as active as they can,” says Dr. Amundsen. “I also emphasize that foot health is connected to our overall health.”

Dr. Amundsen suggests swimming and bicycling to keep your feet – and the rest of your body – healthy and flexible. He also recommends investing in a good pair of supportive running or trail shoes for foot health and comfort.