The prevalence of foot problems in older women: a cause for concern.
Dawson J., Thorogood M., Marks SA., Juszczak E., Dodd C., Lavis G., Fitzpatrick R.
BACKGROUND: Painful feet are an extremely common problem amongst older women. Such problems increase the risk of falls and hamper mobility. The aetiology of painful and deformed feet is poorly understood. METHODS: Data were obtained during a pilot case-control study about past high heel usage in women, in relation to osteoarthritis of the knee. A total of 127 women aged 50-70 were interviewed (31 cases, 96 controls); case-control sets were matched for age. The following information was obtained about footwear: (1) age when first wore shoes with heels 1, 2 and 3 inches high; (2) height of heels worn for work; (3) maximum height of heels worn regularly for work, going out socially and for dancing, in 10-year age bands. Information about work-related activities and lifetime occupational history was gathered using a Life-Grid. The interview included a foot inspection. RESULTS: Foot problems, particularly foot arthritis, affected considerably more cases than controls (45 per cent versus 16 per cent, p = 0.001) and was considered a confounder. Cases were therefore excluded from subsequent analyses. Amongst controls, the prevalence of any foot problems was very high (83 per cent). All women had regularly worn one inch heels and few (8 per cent) had never worn 2 inch heels. Foot problems were significantly associated with a history of wearing relatively lower heels. Few work activities were related to foot problems; regular lifting was associated with foot pain (p = 0.03). CONCLUSION: Most women in this age-group have been exposed to high-heeled shoes over many years, making aetiological research difficult in this area. Foot pain and deformities are widespread. The relationship between footwear, occupational activities and foot problems is a complex one that deserves considerably more research.