Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Can Foot Type Predict Future Problems?

The foot-study version of big data supports the conventional wisdom that people with flat feet that pronate are more likely to get bunions than people with high arches.

The Framingham Foot Study is a long-term, large-scale project that has investigated several aspects of foot type and disorders. In the journal PLoS One, researchers describe one such avenue of exploration--whether some common foot problems are more prevalent in certain foot types.

The researchers measured foot posture, or how a person's feet look when the person is stationary, in more than 3,000 adults. Those said to have pes planus foot posture (what most of us call flat feet) were more likely to have hammer toes and overlapping toes than the people with pes cavus foot posture (what most of us call high-arched feet).

The researchers also measured foot function, or how the feet operate when in motion (in this case, as the study participants walked). In line with podiatric theory, the flat-footed people were more likely to pronate, and the high-arched people were more likely to supinate. Those whose feet pronated when walking were significantly more likely to have bunions ("hallux valgus" in medical speak) and overlapping toes. Those whose feet supinated were significantly less likely to have bunions and hallux rigidus, or stiffness at the base of the big toe joint, which can lead to arthritis.

In this study, there was no relationship between foot type and risk of developing plantar fasciitis. The study participants were drawn from the general population, not from among a group of runners.

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