Inadquate footwear such as high heels is partly to blame for the arthritis problem that is in danger of reaching epidemic proportions in the UK where already one in four adults has a muskuloskeletal condition, with 60% of arthritis cases being in the feet.

Moreover, one in three people in the UK says they don’t know what causes arthritis, what symptoms arise, and where to go for help if they think they may have them.

These are the conclusions that the The Society of Chiropodists and Podiatrists came to when they conducted a survey recently, the results of which they are releasing to coincide with June being the month when they mark Feet for Life, their annual foot health awareness campaign.

Arthritis is set to be more common in the UK, where the proportion of older people is rising and so is obesity.

Arthritis is a “muskuloskeletal condition”, an umbrella term for about 200 problems of the muscles, joints and skeleton that affects about 10 million people in the UK, or one in four of the adult population. Treatment of this group of disorders is the fifth highest area of spending across the NHS.

The most common form of arthritis is osteoarthritis, which happens when through injury or wear and tear, the protective layer of cartilage in joints wears away and the exposed bones rub each other and become inflamed and painful.

One of the most common places it develops is in the feet, where there are many small joints. The condition often develops, or is made worse, because of poor footwear, or because people simply neglect their feet, perhaps because they aren’t aware of the treatments available and how to prevent things getting worse.

A One Poll survey of 2000 men and women carried out in May 2010 on behalf of the The Society of Chiropodists and Podiatrists found that a significant proportion of adults are doing things that can increase their risk of developing osteoarthritis. For example by:

  • Wearing sports shoes that don’t provide the correct mechanical assistance to the foot: 77% of respondents said they don’t wear sports shoes designed for the activity they use them for.
  • Wearing high-heeled shoes: 25% of women said they wore high heeled shoes either every day or frequently (this changes posture and increases pressure on the feet, ankles and knees).
  • Not being aware of osteoarthritis symptoms and thus not seeking treatment: 36% of respondents said they did not know much about it, while 22% assumed it was an unavoidable consequence of ageing.

The survey also found that 65% of people say they have experienced stiffness or pain in their lower body or feet, but only half of them sought professional advice.

Professor Anthony Redmond, a podiatrist and arthritis researcher from The Society of Chiropodists and Podiatrists told the press that although it was true that as you get older you are more likely to develop arthritis, the good news is you can do things to prevent and treat it.

“Choosing the right footwear will help minimise the stress placed on the feet and joints during everyday activity and helps reduce the risk of injury and joint damage,” said Redmond.

For every day, people should choose a round-toed shoe, with a heel no more than 2 or 3 cm high, a shock-absorbent sole, and a lace or strap to help minimize damage to the joints.

And when exercising, to improve performance and protect from injury, people should opt for trainers that are fitted and designed specifically for the kind of exercise they do.

“Those who wear trainers that are not designed for sporting activity are placing themselves at real risk,” warned Redmond.

“With forces through the joints exceeding eight times the body weight during some sports, the importance of matching the right footwear to the activity cannot be overstated,” he urged.

Foot and ankle pain should never be ignored, said Redmond.

“Some forms of arthritis start first in the feet and early treatment is vital to achieving the best long term outcome,” he added.

Keeping to a healthy weight is also important, as being overweight increases the mechanical stress on the joints.

Source: The Society of Chiropodists and Podiatrists (UK).

Written by: Catharine Paddock, PhD