Researchers have found that 20% of men and 24% of women experience foot pain. The findings indicate that women are more likely to experience foot pain, cramps, and ankle pain than men.
Why is there such a dramatic difference between sexes? Well, there are many factors specific to gender that contribute, some of which significantly increase the likelihood of developing foot problems.
FitMyFoot cares about your foot health, and the best way to help people stay healthy is to keep them informed. As a caveat, we’d like to present you with the five main reasons why women have more foot problems.
1. Unique foot anatomy
Foot pain is an ailment that affects millions of people around the world. Women, however, experience significantly more of these problems. To understand why, we need to explore the unique anatomy of feet.
The difference between male and female feet
Certain anatomical differences between men’s and women’s feet affect the likelihood of experiencing foot ailments. Women’s feet are typically slimmer with a wider forefoot, and they tend to be more narrow around the heel. Additionally they have shorter arch lengths, shorter metatarsals, more loose ligaments, and greater plantar flexion and range of motion. In comparison, men's feet are larger and wider overall, and generally remain a very similar width from heel to toe.
On average, women have smaller feet proportional to the rest of their body, meaning there’s more pressure that needs to be distributed across a smaller area. This can cause extra stress on the various muscle tissues and bones in their feet. Women are also more prone to developing flat feet or high arches which can eventually cause ankle cramps and other foot-related issues.
2. High Heels and Ill-Fitted Shoes
Shoes play a major role in the different foot issues women experience. A perfect example of this is a type of shoe most commonly worn by women: high-heels. Women are more vulnerable to certain foot problems—especially ankle sprains—when wearing high-heels or platform-soled shoes. High-heels can also be very precarious, and it takes a considerable amount of balance to walk properly in them. However, the long-term concern is that they put intense pressure on foot arches. This can cause the arches to collapse or lose their shape—especially if they’re worn often.
Walking in narrow-fitting high-heels that cramp the forefoot and squeeze the toes significantly contributes to the risk of arch and ankle problems. At the same time, wearing heels can also facilitates a higher risk of developing:
- Morton's Neuroma
- Plantar Fasciitis
- Achilles Tendinitis
These conditions arise due to the huge amount of pressure high-heels place on the balls of the feet. However, with that being said, there are still many options for women that don’t come with the same risks. Wearing shorter heels is a step in the right direction, and wearing fitted shoes and/or prescription insoles can also help you avoid these issues. With that in mind, wearing high-heels on occasion—with a healthy dose of user discretion—shouldn’t be too much of a risk. Especially if they’re fitted properly.
3. Jobs That Require Standing
While it's true that more men work in construction, highway work, and manual labor, more women have jobs where standing for long periods of time is a requisite. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, roughly 75% of teachers and 90% of nurses are women. Other jobs dominated by women are hairdressers, servers, retail workers and house cleaners.
Standing for long periods of time is extremely hard on the feet due to the amount of pressure they have to withstand, making this a leading cause in foot problems. Pair this with high-heels or ill-fitted shoes and you’ve got yourself a recipe for foot pain and problems.
According to the National Institutes of Health, women and men have about the same prevalence of obesity, however women were more likely to be morbidly obese. The more a person weighs, the more pressure they have on their feet, placing people with obesity at greater risk for plantar fasciitis, achilles tendinitis, and other painful foot conditions.
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Weight gain during pregnancy also puts women at greater risk for foot pain, much like women who are already overweight. Added weight and pressure on the balls of the feet and toes increases a pregnant woman’s vulnerability. In addition, pregnancy triggers a release of hormones that loosen ligaments, which can contribute to foot strain and swelling. Pregnancy also alters your center of gravity, directly affecting balance which can increase the chance of twisting an ankle.
Even so, pregnant women can help to alleviate foot pain by wearing shoes that accommodate swelling and increased foot size. These shoes need to be supportive, and they should have a wide toe box for more comfort and stability.
How to avoid foot ailments: being proactive and preemptive
The gender differences may seem unequitable at first glance, but don’t worry—there are plenty of ways women can avoid these painful foot problems and lead a foot-healthy lifestyle. Here are some simple changes that can help you prevent foot problems from developing:
- Wear comfortable and supportive shoes.
- Replace athletic shoes once they wear out.
- Choose low impact forms of exercise to help prevent injury.
- Maintain a healthy weight.
- Eat a healthy diet.
The most effective treatment is often rest and care at home. If you’re experiencing ongoing foot pain and it doesn’t improve with home remedies, it’s important to see a doctor. Ignoring foot pain can lead to possible damage to the structure of your foot, which can cause even more problems down the line.
If home remedies and lifestyle changes aren’t working, a doctor may recommend additional treatment, such as:
- Physical therapy
- Surgery (only in extreme cases)
Foot problems can cause significant pain and discomfort, as well as difficulty moving around. However, we’ve got great news for you. Depending on the ailment, most people can make a complete recovery. Try out our advice, take the proper care, and the next time you experience foot problems—kick them right out the door.