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Pain Management

Feel Like You’re Walking on Rocks? You May Have This Common Foot Problem


When it comes to caring for your body, are your feet at the bottom of the list? You’re not alone. It’s not uncommon to care more about wrinkles or the way your weight shifts around as you age. However, your feet might begin to complain in ways that you can’t ignore. If you’ve ever had foot pain that feels like you’re walking on rocks, you may be experiencing fat loss in your feet.  

It’s a good thing when you get rid of fat, right? Not when it comes to our tender feet! We naturally have fat pads, or thick connective tissues under the ball of the foot and the heel. Fat pads act as cushion and reduce impact on your bones and joints as you walk, run, and go about your day. They also reduce pressure, friction, and tension on many areas of the foot.  

Why does “fat pad atrophy” cause foot pain? 

As you age, your feet may gradually lose padding in the ball of the foot and heel. This is called fat pad atrophy, and it can cause multiple problems. “Loss of fat usually causes pain on the balls of feet due to loss of protection under the metatarsal heads – these are the bony structures that lie under the skin in this area,” Dr. David Pizzano, a podiatrist at the Roxbury Foot and Ankle Center, tells Woman’s World. The sensation of walking on rocks is due to these bones pressing into the ground, he explains. Sometimes calluses can develop as a result of this pressure, which your local podiatrist can remove.

Other symptoms of fat pad atrophy include foot pain after wearing high heels or walking barefoot on a hard flat surface. If you feel the bottoms of your feet, you may be able to feel your bones without much soft tissue in the way.  

In addition, you’re more susceptible to the loss of fat in your feet if you are older, wear high heels often, wear thin-soled shoes, have very high arches, or suffer from rheumatoid arthritis. Fat pad atrophy can also accelerate if you have diabetes or have a genetic predisposition to it.  

How to Treat Fat Pad Atrophy and Relieve Foot Pain 

If you believe that you’re suffering from a loss of fat in your feet, contact your local podiatrist. A podiatrist will be able to diagnose the source (or sources) of your pain and offer solutions. In the meantime, Dr. Pizzano has some tips on how to alleviate pain

“The best way to manage this is to avoid walking barefooted or wearing any shoes with very flat soles,” he says. “The best type of shoe is the running sneaker, or for seniors with limited mobility, slip-on Skechers which have great cushion [Buy on Skechers, $47.99].” 

According to Dr. Pizzano, it’s also worth your while to invest in orthotics. “By far the best solution is the custom molded orthotic, which is a device which is placed in a shoe to help distribute pressure,” he says. “For people on a limited budged there are also pre-fabricated orthotics which can be purchased over the counter or in your local podiatrist office.” Don’t wait to get seen! Your aching feet will thank you.  

Related: Best Slippers for Foot Pain

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