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RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:

This is MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, Host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep.

In Your Health today, we'll try to get you back on your feet. There's a new treatment for a painful and common condition. We'll hear about that in a moment. First, we'll ask why your feet hurt more as you get older.

As NPR's Patti Neighmond reports, foot pain is among the top reasons that Americans see their doctors.

PATTI NEIGHMOND: Plain and simple: foot pain is a huge problem for lots of people.

(SOUNDBITE OF FOOTSTEPS)

NEIGHMOND: Robin Powers is on her way to see her podiatrist. She's wearing a very fashionable pair of boots with heels.

ROBIN POWERS: They're boots that are pointy, and I bought them thinking they were stylish. And when I first put them on, they felt pretty good.

NEIGHMOND: But quickly, Powers found out that wasn't the case and her feet started to hurt. In fact, her feet have been hurting quite a bit these days.

POWERS: Probably in the past five years, I've noticed a real shift in my foot. And my foot is very narrow in the back. It's wide in the front, and my arches are falling.

NEIGHMOND: And she's inherited bunions from her mother. Powers knows from her podiatrist that her sore feet may also have something to do with the high heels and the strappy the sandals she wore as a young adult. Even now, at 53, Powers says she can't wear what everybody knows as sensible shoes. She works in the fashion industry.

POWERS: We wear the clothes on the job, and I feel really good when I'm dressed, but I cannot have on a pair of sneakers while I am waiting on customers.

NEIGHMOND: Lots of women apparently feel this way, which is one reason why women have twice as much foot pain as men.

What should you typically wear?

POWERS: Well, I brought some different ones.

NEIGHMOND: Today, Robin Powers has hauled a bag of her shoes in to see podiatrist Emily Cook at Boston's Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. Today, Robin says, her goal is to get help figuring out which of her shoes to wear to minimize the pain.

POWERS: It's tough, and I'm really still struggling to find a shoe that I can wear when I'm at work.

NEIGHMOND: Podiatrist Emily Cook says Robin Powers' dilemma is pretty typical. Lots of women in their early 50s start having foot pain and have to readjust not only shoe style, but often shoe size.

EMILY COOK: Our feet can actually get wider, and they can change shape. They can change size. You can lose flexibility within your joints. Certain foot deformities, like bunions and hammertoes and tightening of our muscles can worsen over time.

NEIGHMOND: And the dreary list goes on - weakened ligaments and joints, arthritis, even a thinning of the fatty pads on the bottom of our feet.

The same thing happens to the aging male foot, and men tend to pick shoes that are too big. As a result of all this, a recent study found nearly one third of all U.S. adults suffer chronic foot pain.

ROBIN BENTZ: Just putting your foot on the ground and putting your weight on it was just excruciating.

NEIGHMOND: For months, 62-year-old Robin Christine Bentz suffered what she described as unbearable pain every time she took a step. When she couldn't stand it anymore, she went to see podiatrist Emily Cook, who suggested custom- made orthotics. These are plastic inserts which fit into shoes to cushion the foot and give support.

BENTZ: It's been like a miracle. My feet never touch the ground unless I have the orthotics, because the pain is too great in the past, and I'm not going back there.

NEIGHMOND: But the catch is finding shoes that fit the orthotics.

BENTZ: They're probably the ugliest shoes that the world has ever seen.

NEIGHMOND: But if you can afford custom work, fashion as possible.

BENTZ: Dr. Cook told me that she can make different types of orthotics that do fit into the fancier shoes.

NEIGHMOND: If you're not wearing orthotics, Cook says the most important thing is to make sure your shoes are really fit your foot. Buy shoes that give support, but aren't too stiff. Make sure the shoe bends where you are toes bend, and alternate different shoes on different days.

Patti Neighmond, NPR News.

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