Obesity and Foot Problems

Houston podiatrist discusses obesity as a cause of foot painWhile the presence of any health condition may be a cause for concern, obesity is particularly troubling because it increases the risk for countless other physical health problems ranging from diabetes to cancer. The limits it can impose on daily living and bodily dissatisfaction can negatively impact mental and emotional state as well. Being seriously overweight can compromise foot health in numerous ways and problems with the feet often translate to mobility issues, which in turn can seriously impact quality of life. The harder it is to move around, the harder it will be to lose weight and foot problems will worsen, creating a vicious cycle.


Obesity is a Growing Problem

As our waistline grows, it seems that foot problems are growing along with them. A recent study by the Institute for Preventive Foot Health found that obese people were much more likely to have foot problems and a greater amount of pain resulting from them. People who had a BMI (body mass index) of 30 or greater were 51 percent more likely to report their foot health as fair or poor; they were also 41 percent more likely to be currently experiencing one or more foot issues. Sixteen percent of respondents also rated their pain levels between 7 and 10. Compared to adults with less severe weight issues, the ‘’very overweight’’ were 32 percent less active in sports or other physical activities


Excess Pressure on the Arch

Our feet support our whole body and are designed to do just that. But, when we put more weight on them than they can handle, a host of problems can ensue. The supporting structures of the foot, on average, carry 4 to 6 times our body weight—when obesity comes into play, that is a lot of weight on the feet.  Putting excess pressure on the ligaments, muscles and tendons that support the arch is one of the biggest issues because a weak arch sets the stage for a number of painful problems. All the extra weight they are dealing with will not toughen them up and make them stronger; rather, it weakens these supporting structures and flattens the arch. This results in displacement and collapse of the bones and joints in the feet; this will not only lead to foot problems, but can cause pain in the lower back, hips, shins and knees.


The most common arch-related issues in obese patients are heel spurs and plantar fasciitis, which causes heel pain that may travel to the arch; the excess pressure resulting from obesity stretches the fascia, a layer of fibrous tissue that surrounds muscles, ligaments and other parts of the body; constant pulling results in inflammation of this area of the foot and the formation of heel spurs. Flat arches can cause overpronation, which causes you to walk on the outer edge of the foot—over time, this can twist the muscles in the leg and foot, leading to deformity. Other foot issues include increased risk of ankle sprains and shin splints.


The altered walking pattern that results from obesity can increase pressure on the knees, leading to pain and other issues. In turn, the knee pain causes a change in gait that can lead to pain in the hips and back.


Bunions and obesity have long been linked and it appears that excess weight contributes to the formation of these painful bony growths in numerous ways. Obese people tend to walk with shorter wider steps; they are also more likely to overpronate, or walk with the toes pointed outward. This style of walking puts pressure on the feet in a way that increases the likelihood of bunions. Obesity may also accelerate the breakdown of cartilage and the development of arthritis, which is a risk factor for developing bunions. These growths cause inflammation in the foot, which can lead to pain and difficulty completing daily tasks.


Addressing the Problem

If you have already developed problems with your feet, there are many solutions to ease the pain, such as getting custom orthotics that help support the arches and relieve the pain associated with flat feet. But, ultimately, we need to get at the root causes of foot pain, like carrying around excess weight. Foot issues may make it difficult for you to exercise but there are ways to up your physical activity without putting undue burden on your damaged feet.


Certain types of exercises put less strain on the feet and these are the ones you want to commit to. Any water-based activity is always a good choice. You may not be able to run sprints, but do not underestimate the power of nice, long walks at a moderate pace; with a sturdy shoe and some good orthotics, you can engage in this effective weight loss exercise. You should aim for at least 30 minutes of activity on most days and if foot pain makes it difficult to exercise for longer periods, breaking it up in chunks of at least 10 minutes can be just as good as going straight through.  Talk to your Houston podiatrist for guidance before starting an exercise program.



Kelli Cooper is a freelance writer who specializes in health and wellness content; if you are interested in reading more about how to fight obesity, visit Weight Loss Triumph, which focuses on a variety of weight-related topics like the Medifast weight loss review. Kelli has a passion for healthy living and particularly enjoys writing about how people can overcome personal challenges that interfere with their weight loss goals. She is passionate about traveling and writing and is currently doing both in Southeast Asia.

Dr. Andrew Schneider
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A podiatrist and foot surgeon in Houston, TX.