For women, foot pain often comes on the heels of poor shoe choices

Consumer Reports News: October 06, 2009 02:35 PM

Listen up, ladies: think carefully about your shoe choices today if you want happy feet in the future. That's the message of a new study, which found that women who wear sensible shoes are much less likely to have pain in their hindfoot when they're older.

The study included 1,900 women and 1,472 men who were age 50 or above. They were asked whether they currently had pain, aching, or stiffness in one or both feet, and if so, whether it affected a specific part of their foot. They were also asked about their current and past footwear across five age groups: 20 to 29 years, 30 to 44 years, 45 to 64 years, 65 to 74 years, and over 75 years. The researchers sorted the footwear into three categories: good (low-risk shoes offering lots of support and stability, such as athletic shoes and sneakers), average (mid-risk shoes, such as hard- or rubber-soled shoes and work boots), and poor (high-risk shoes lacking good support and structure, such as high heels, sandals, and slippers).

Overall, 29 in 100 women and 19 in 100 men reported having foot pain on most days. But while men's current and past footwear didn't seem to affect their chance of having pain, women's did. Women who had a history of wearing good shoes were 67 percent less likely to have pain in their hindfoot than those who wore average shoes. (The hindfoot is the rear of the foot, above the heel.) Why the difference? The researchers point out that good footwear is designed to cushion the foot, often with softer soles infused with foam, gel, or other shock-absorbing material. Since the hindfoot receives the largest shockwave with each step, these shoes could help prevent pain in this area.

Interestingly, women who had a history of wearing poor shoes were only 8 percent more likely to have hindfoot pain than those who wore average shoes, a difference small enough that it could have been due to chance. The researchers didn't do a direct comparison between women who wore good shoes and those who wore poor shoes. Although the researchers can't fully explain why they found no relationship between shoes and foot pain in men, they point out that less than 2 in 100 men had a history of wearing poor footwear.

What you need to know. It's easy to take our feet for granted, as they put up with a lot of abuse daily, often without complaint. But, over time, such wear and tear may take its toll. Indeed, foot and toe problems rank among the top 20 reasons people age 65 to 74 visit their doctor, and pain and stiffness stop many people from exercising or even getting around easily. Admittedly, sneakers and other support-focused shoes may not be suitable for all occasions. But when you can, why not take this study's message to heart (and sole)? If the good shoe fits, wear it.

Sophie Ramsey, patient editor, BMJ Group has partnered with The BMJ Group (British Medical Journal) to monitor the latest medical research and assess the evidence to help you decide which news you should use.

Do you have pain in the bottom of your foot? Read our information on heel pain, and take a look at our comparison of 10 drug and non-drug treatments (subscribers only).

Photo courtesy of _dChris

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