The orthopedic boot that is likely to hobble presumptive President-elect Joseph R. Biden for a few weeks prompted additional speculation about the health of the 78-year-old man who would become the oldest-ever president on Inauguration Day.
The fractured foot sustained in an apparent weekend misadventure with his dog threatened to dent the carefully crafted image of the former vice president that his campaign team developed during the race.
Mr. Biden’s team went to lengths to adorn him with vitality, making hip aviator sunglasses his hallmark and casting him as an energetic politician whom Americans would barely be able to keep up with.
“Given his age, that raises those questions in a way that it might not with some of the more recent candidates in the 21st century,” said Ted Frantz, a history professor at the University of Indianapolis.
The incident prompted complaints from people such as MSNBC anchor Andrea Mitchell about information that Mr. Biden’s team put out and did little to quell speculation about presumptive Vice President-elect Kamala D. Harris as something of a president-in-waiting.
It is typically easier to control the public perception of a candidate’s health once someone is in the White House, Mr. Frantz said — whether it was John F. Kennedy’s debilitating back issues or Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s polio and partial paralysis.
“President-elect — that’s still probably the most vulnerable time in terms of striking that line between acting and looking presidential but not yet really having all of the power to convene in your place, at your choosing in the way that a president does,” he said.
Mr. Biden’s team disclosed Sunday that he “slipped while playing with his dog Major” a day earlier. They initially said he twisted an ankle.
His doctor later said Mr. Biden sprained his foot before saying Sunday evening that a follow-up CT scan confirmed “hairline (small) fractures of President-elect Biden’s lateral and intermediate cuneiform bones, which are in the mid-foot.”
Dr. Kevin O’Connor, director of executive medicine at the George Washington University Medical Faculty Associates, said Mr. Biden will likely be in a walking boot for several weeks.
Reporters covering Mr. Biden were not allowed to see him enter the doctor’s office Sunday, despite multiple requests.
Leaving the doctor’s office to head to an imaging center for his CT scan, Mr. Biden was limping, though he walked without a crutch or other aid.
A Biden spokesperson had said the Sunday trips for an X-ray and an additional CT scan were made “in order to avoid disrupting regularly scheduled appointments on Monday … with the expected delays involved when opening closed offices and giving personnel time to set up.”
Mr. Biden’s team did not answer additional questions Monday about his health or the accident.
“They weren’t as forthcoming as you would hope they would be with the press pool that’s supposed to cover him,” Ms. Mitchell said on her Monday show.
His office did release a statement saying he again tested negative for COVID-19 on Monday.
Jay Olshansky, a public health expert who focuses on aging research, said health issues can get more serious as people get older.
“I don’t want to sugarcoat aging. Things go wrong as we get older, and the probability of them going wrong rises the older we get,” said Mr. Olshansky, a professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
He downplayed concerns for Mr. Biden specifically, though.
Mr. Olshansky and several other researchers published an article in September about the projected life spans of President Trump, 74, and Mr. Biden. Both men have family histories of “exceptional longevity,” and chronological age wasn’t a relevant factor for either man, the study found.
The report classified Mr. Trump and Mr. Biden as likely “super agers,” a subgroup of people who maintain their mental and physical functioning into late life and tend to live longer on average.
“He was identified as one of the healthiest 78-year-old individuals you could find,” Mr. Olshansky said of Mr. Biden.
Mr. Trump tested positive for COVID-19 as the article was in production.
The president was hospitalized for several days. He said later that he felt better than he did 20 years ago after he was given an experimental cocktail of drugs as treatment.
Last December, the Biden campaign released a medical summary from Dr. O’Connor attesting to Mr. Biden’s health.
“Vice President Biden is a healthy, vigorous, 77-year-old male, who is fit to successfully execute the duties of the Presidency, to include those as Chief Executive, Head of State, and Commander in Chief,” the doctor said.
The medical report did note that Mr. Biden had an intracranial hemorrhage from an aneurysm in 1988 and that a 2014 CT angiogram showed no recurrence of disease.
A Rasmussen poll this summer found that more than half of likely voters believed Mr. Biden would not finish his first term if elected.
Mr. Franz said it would be more difficult for presidents now to mask serious health ailments compared with the days of Kennedy or FDR when media handled the president’s personal life and health issues much differently.
“So, is it possible to cover some things up?” he said. “With Biden’s age, with coronavirus, with so many of our governors and other leaders continuing to test COVID-positive, there is just such an acute awareness right now of the health of officeholders.”
• This article is based in part on wire service reports.