Obesity is one of the biggest health problems facing the UK and it’s our lower limbs and feet which bear the brunt of being overweight. As part of The College of Podiatry’s annual Feet for Life month in June, Jay Lall director of Kent Foot & Ankle Clinic, in Rochester is looking to raise awareness of the foot problems and conditions linked to being overweight. This month has been dedicated to patient education and advice on obesity and the impact on your feet, movement, activity and exercise.
Jay Lall said: “Being overweight and obese, places increased pressure on your feet, ankles and lower limbs, which makes you more likely to experience arthritis, foot pain and skin problems on the feet. It can also create a debilitating cycle where people put on weight and then find it difficult to stay mobile and exercise, which can result in even further weight gain and make it harder to lose weight and regain good health. As a podiatrist I want to help people address and overcome any foot problems and pain they are experiencing so that they can stay as mobile as possible and experience a better quality of life. If you do experience painful feet on a regular basis, please don’t ignore it, there is nearly always something that can be done to help.”
Key foot problems associated with obesity:
- Changes in the size of your feet – being overweight can cause feet to ‘splay’ and become wider and the arch of the foot flatter. This is particularly evident in childhood. When you are young the bones in your body haven’t hardened so if a child is overweight the arch of the foot can flatten and cause a change in the whole structure of the foot. It is vital to wear a comfortable, well-fitting shoe. For those who do have wide feet it can be more challenging to find a shoe that fits, but there are increasing numbers of footwear brands which are offering wider fittings. Don’t try to squeeze your feet into narrow shoes which rub or pinch.
- Gout – gout is a type of arthritis, it is caused by a build-up of uric acid in the blood. Uric acid is a natural daily by-product made in the body when it breaks down chemicals in cells known as purines. It is usually excreted through the kidneys, but it can build up and form crystals in the joints which cause the pain and inflammation associated with gout. It can also cause progressive damage to joints. Common symptoms include severe pain and inflammation in one or two joints; it usually affects the base of the big toe. Being overweight or obese increases your risk of developing gout.
- Osteoarthritis – osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis and is caused by stress to the cartilage in the joints which can result from injury or general wear and tear. Being overweight places increased pressure on the joints, particularly on your feet, which increases your chances of developing osteoarthritis. Symptoms include stiffness, pain and inflammation.
- Type 2 Diabetes – being overweight makes you more likely to develop Type 2 Diabetes, a condition where the body cannot produce enough insulin to function properly, or the body’s cells become insulin resistant. Diabetes can have a significant impact on your feet. It can result in nerve damage (neuropathy), where you lose the ability to feel certain sensations in the feet such as heat or pain, It can cause poor blood supply, which reduces the skin’s ability to repair when damaged, and it can also alter the body’s ability to fight infection. All of these factors can mean the feet are at a much greater risk of becoming infected and it is vital to check your feet regularly and go for regular foot checks with a podiatrist, GP or practice nurse.
- Foot pain – being overweight causes a disturbance in the way you walk which can contribute to foot pain. The bones, muscles and tendons in your feet are not designed to carry excess weight so this puts strain on the foot which can result in tenderness, swelling and pain. All of the above conditions can cause foot pain, but other common problems associated with obesity which cause foot pain are:
- Posterior tibial tendonitis – pain in the tendon that runs along the inside of the ankle and the foot
- Plantar fasciitis – an inflammation in the thick ligamentous connective tissue that runs from the heel to the ball of the foot
- Hindfoot arthritis – an inflammation in the back part of the foot.