Risk Factors for Foot Pain
by Ricker Polsdorfer, MD
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.
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 circulation problems.
Women are at higher risk than men for severe foot pain. This may be related 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. It plays 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.
Occupational Risk Factors
Many job-related foot injuries occur every year. A number of foot problems have been caused by repetitive use at work. These include:
Medical Conditions and Trauma
Certain conditions increase the risk of having foot pain. Examples include:
Diabetes —People with diabetes are at particular risk for severe foot infections due to poor circulation. They must take special measures.
Obesity —People who carry excess weight put increased stress on their feet. This also increases the risk of foot or ankle injuries.
Other medical conditions —Fractures of the foot, heel spurs, and arch abnormalities can cause chronic pain. People with many other medical conditions, such as ingrown toenail, 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.
Altarac M, Gardner JW, Popovich RM, et al. Cigarette smoking and exercise-related injuries among young men and women. Am J Prev Med. 2000;18(3 Suppl):96-102.
Foot care. American Diabetes Association website. Available at:
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Updated October 10, 2014. Accessed February 7, 2018.
Foot care 101. American Podiatric Medical Association website. Available at:
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Accessed February 7, 2018.
Leveille SG, Guralnik JM, Ferrucci L, et al. Foot pain and disability in older women. Am J Epidemiol. 1998;148(7):657-665.
Last reviewed March 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Warren A. Bodine, DO, CAQSM
Last Updated: 3/15/2015
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