My feet are changing. Is that normal?

Yes... and maybe no. Each step you take puts force on your feet that is 2-3 times your body weight. The average person takes approximately 10,000 steps per day, which can add up more than 3 million steps per year. Multiply these numbers together and you come up with a lot of force being applied to your feet over time!

In addition, the fibers that make up your tendons and ligaments stretch as you age, just like the fibers that make up your skin. The effects will vary from individual to individual based on their body weight, amount of time on their feet, and their genetics, but in general will result in several normal changes associated with aging:

  • The foot becomes wider and longer. It is not uncommon for individuals to notice their shoe size increasing up to two sizes from their early adulthood.

  • Your feet appear flatter due to mild settling of the arch. This may impact the width of the shoes you need to wear.

  • The fat pads on the bottom of your heel and under the bones of your forefoot thin out, causing loss of natural padding and spring in the step. This can also lead to increased heel pain and calluses, as well as discomfort walking barefoot on rough surfaces.

  • Your feet and ankles get stiffer as they lose some of their normal range of motion.

  • You may lose sensation in your feet, which can affect balance. Loss of sensation can make it difficult to sense where your foot is in space, so you may lose balance while walking more often.

When is it not normal?

Some foot changes you experience may be abnormal. These changes may be associated with wearing certain shoe designs over many years, the progression of old injuries, or genetics. These problems include:

  • Bunions (the formation of a large bump at the base of the big toe and pointing of the big toe toward the little toes) or bunionettes (the formation of a painful bump on the outside of the foot at the base of the little toe and the pointing of the little toe toward the large toe)

  • Big toe arthritis (hallux rigidus) and other arthritis of the joints

  • Hammertoes (curling of the toes)

  • Clawing of the toes (more severe curling of the toes)

  • Calluses or corns, which occur on the toes or foot due to high pressure over bony areas

  • Morton's neuromas ("pinched nerve" between the toes)

  • Bony prominences in the midfoot as a result of arthritis

  • Inflammation (tendinitis) of the tendons on the little toe side of the ankle. This is more common in individuals who tend to wear their shoes on the outside of the soles.

  • Sagging of the tendons and ligaments on the big toe side of the ankle. This may be accompanied by a collapse of the arch that is greater on one foot than the other.

When should I call a doctor?

It can be difficult to tell if what you are observing in your feet and ankles is part of the normal aging process or something more serious. If the changes in your feet make it difficult to wear shoes or participate in activities you enjoy, make an appointment to see a foot and ankle orthopaedic surgeon. Your surgeon will do an evaluation and help you understand your foot or ankle problem, how it may progress over time, and whether you may benefit from any treatment.


Contributors/Reviewers: F. Ray Nickel, MD

The American Orthopaedic Foot & Ankle Society (AOFAS) offers information on this site as an educational service. The content of FootCareMD, including text, images, and graphics, is for informational purposes only. The content is not intended to substitute for professional medical advice, diagnoses or treatments. If you need medical advice, use the "Find a Surgeon" search to locate a foot and ankle orthopaedic surgeon in your area.