The Surprising Way to Prevent Falls

By Marygrace Taylor |

Spoiler alert: Taking good care of your feet can help you prevent the slips and tumbles that are more likely to happen as you grow older. Here’s how.

close up of senior woman tying her shoes during a walk for a story on foot health and fall prevention

Your feet get you where you want to go all day, every day. So if they’re not in great shape, you could have a harder time staying steady as you move from point A to point B.

“Foot pain or issues in older adults can affect balance and stability and increase the risk of falling,” says Julie Schottenstein, D.P.M. She is a board-certified podiatrist in Miami, Florida. That can set the stage for serious injuries including broken bones and head trauma.

Problems like bunions, corns, calluses and plantar fasciitis become more common as you get older. Not only are they top causes of foot pain — they can take a toll on your balance too, Dr. Schottenstein adds. After all, it’s tougher to walk steadily when your feet hurt.

Certain health conditions can factor in too. Diabetes can lead to neuropathy, which is nerve damage in the feet. That can affect your proprioception, or your foot’s ability to sense where it is in space, explains Rebekah Mulligan, M.D. She is an internal and geriatric medicine physician on the medical staff at Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital Southlake in Grapevine, Texas. Gout, arthritis and neurological conditions like Parkinson’s disease are other common culprits.

If that all sounds discouraging, here’s some reassuring news: Giving your feet a little TLC can help you stay steady — and safe. Put your best foot forward with this expert advice.

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First, Find the Right Footwear

Nearly 50% of older adults who fall at home say they were wearing slippers, socks or no shoes at all when they fell. Those wearing comfortable, sturdy shoes around the house stay steadier on their feet.

Supportive footwear offers traction on slippery surfaces (like a spill in the kitchen), balance on uneven ground (like risers in between rooms), and protection from sharp objects (like the toy car your grandkid left on the floor), Dr. Schottenstein explains.

But not all shoes are created equal. Here’s what our experts say you should look for:

Proper fit: Not too loose, not too tight. Make sure there’s enough room in the toe box to wiggle your toes.

Supportive soles: Look for non-slip soles that are firm and flexible but not stiff. You should be able to bend the sole of the shoe, but it shouldn’t twist.

Low heel height: Stick to 1 inch or less for better balance and stability.

Closed toes: They’ll protect you from stubbing your toe, which could lead to a tumble.

Secure closure: Laces or straps are both solid choices, so select whichever type you prefer. Skip the slip-ons, though. While they score points for convenience, they’re more likely to slide off and make you trip.

Room for orthotics, if needed: Inserts can give you extra stability. If you use them, confirm that they’ll fit in your shoes.

You should also consider shopping for shoes in-person instead of buying them online. It gives you an opportunity to have your feet professionally measured, which is important, since aging and health changes can cause your shoe size to shift.

Also bring along the socks you plan to wear with your shoes and put them on when you’re trying on your selections.

Press play for tips to Check Your Shoes:

Recommended reading: 5 Steps to Find the Right Workout Shoes
5 Shoe Mistakes Many Older Adults Make

6 Ways to Keep Your Feet Healthy

Being good to your feet helps you step safely too. Here are some ways you can do just that.

Do a daily foot check. Examine the tops and soles of your feet and between your toes for cuts, sores, blisters or other abnormalities, especially if you have diabetes. Let your doctor or podiatrist know if you spot something, so it can be treated appropriately.

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Follow basic foot hygiene. Wear moisture-wicking socks to keep your feet from getting sweaty, which can increase the risk for fungal infections. Moisturize your feet each day too, to prevent cracks. “Cracking in skin is a way bacteria can get in and cause infections,” Dr. Schottenstein says.

Trim your nails regularly. Cut them straight across to reduce the risk of ingrown nails. If you’re having trouble, ask your doctor to do it for you.

Seek help for warts, corns, and calluses. Don’t try to get rid of them at home with a sharp object. It could cause an injury.

Manage chronic conditions. Follow your prescribed treatment plan for any health problems that could affect your feet, like diabetes, arthritis or peripheral vascular disease.

See your podiatrist regularly. Routine exams can help prevent falls by catching foot problems sooner.

Recommended reading: Fall Prevention: The SilverSneakers Guide
9 Solutions for Tired, Achy Feet
Take the SilverSneakers 7-Day Better Balance Challenge

See our sources:
Injuries from falls: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Health conditions that increase fall risk: National Council on Aging
Falls without shoes: Footwear Science
Sturdy shoes for preventing falls at home: Journal of Rehabilitation Research and Development
Shoe shopping tips: American Podiatric Medical Association
Foot care tips:, American Journal of Medicine

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