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A risk factor is something that increases your chances of getting a disease or condition.

It is possible to develop foot pain with or without the risk factors listed below. However, the more risk factors you have, the greater your chances of developing foot pain. If you have a number of risk factors, ask your healthcare provider what you can do to reduce your risk.

Risk factors for foot pain include the following:

Nearly everyone who wears shoes has foot problems at some point in their lives. Children and the elderly are at a slightly higher risk.

Children —Foot pain is fairly common in children. Heel pain is common in active children between the ages of 8-13, when high-impact exercise can irritate growth centers of the heel.

The Elderly —Elderly people are at very high risk for foot problems. With age, feet widen and flatten. The fat padding on the sole of the foot wears down. Older people's skin is also drier and thinner and may have less blood supply. Foot pain can be the first sign of trouble in many illnesses related to aging, such as arthritis, diabetes, and circulatory disease.

Women are at higher risk than men for severe foot pain. This may be due to wearing high-heeled shoes or shoes that may be too narrow.

Older Women —Severe foot pain appears to be a major cause of general disability in older women. In one study, 14% of older disabled women reported chronic, severe foot pain. It played a major role in requiring assistance for walking and doing daily activities.

Pregnant Women —Pregnant women have special foot problems from weight gain, swelling in their feet and ankles, and the release of certain hormones during pregnancy that cause ligaments to relax. These hormones help with childbearing, but they can weaken the soft tissue structure of the feet.

Many job-related foot injuries occur every year. A number of foot problems have been caused by repetitive use at work. These include:

  • Arthritis of the foot and ankle
  • Toe deformities
  • Pinched nerves between the toes
  • Plantar fasciitis
  • Adult acquired flat foot
  • Tarsal tunnel syndrome

People who engage in regular high-impact aerobic exercise are at risk for plantar fasciitis, heel spurs, sesamoiditis, shin splints, Achilles tendinopathy, and stress fractures.

Certain conditions increase the risk of having foot pain, these include:

Diabetes —People with diabetes are at particular risk for severe foot infections due to poor circulation. They must take special measures.

Excess Weight —People who are overweight put increased stress on their feet. They are at risk for foot or ankle injuries.

Other Medical Conditions —People with many other medical conditions, such as osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, gout, and some inherited abnormalities are at risk for foot problems.

A study reported that smokers are at higher risk for blisters, bruises, sprains, and fractures. This may be because they tend to be less fit than nonsmokers. Smokers may also heal less quickly. This affects some foot surgeries.

References:

Foot care. American Diabetes Association website. Available at: http://www.diabetes.org/living-with-diabetes/complications/foot-complications/foot-care.html. Accessed December 28, 2012.

Foot care. National Institute on Aging website. Available at: http://www.nia.nih.gov/health/publication/foot-care. Updated April 18, 2012. Accessed December 28, 2012.

Foot care 101. American Podiatric Medical Association site. Available at: http://www.apma.org/files/FileDownloads/myFEETFootCare101.pdf. Accessed December 28, 2012.

Lauder TD, Baker SP, et al. Am J Prev Med. 2000 Apr;18(3 Suppl):96-102.

Leveille SG, Guralnik JM, et al. Foot pain and disability in older women. Am J Epidemiol. 1998 Oct 1;148(7):657-665.

Last reviewed November 2012 by Brian Randall, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.