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  • Writer's pictureDr. Ndidi Ufondu, DPM

The Impact of Obesity on Foot Health: A Podiatrist's Perspective




Obesity has become an epidemic in many parts of the world, with rates continuing to climb. This is a major public health concern, as obesity is associated with many serious medical conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and certain cancers. However, obesity also takes a major toll on our feet. As a podiatrist, I frequently see obese patients suffering from foot problems directly related to their weight. In this article, I will discuss the negative impacts obesity has on foot health and the types of foot conditions and symptoms obese patients commonly face.


Excess Weight Stresses the Feet


Carrying extra body weight significantly increases the amount of pressure and stress on the feet. With every step taken, the feet have to support all that extra weight. This puts strain on the plantar fascia, the band of tissue that runs along the bottom of the foot from the heel to the toes. Plantar fasciitis, inflammation of this tissue, is very common in obese individuals due to this repeated pulling and straining. Heel pain is often the telltale symptom.




Extra weight also contributes to overpronation, meaning the arches of the feet collapse excessively. This results in flat feet and bunions. Prolonged overpronation alters the biomechanics of the foot, leading to pain and instability. It also causes ankle and knee pain as these joints are forced to compensate for the collapsed arches.





Obesity Increases Risk of Gout


Gout is a form of inflammatory arthritis triggered by excess uric acid in the bloodstream. This uric acid crystals then deposit in the joints, causing redness, swelling, and severe pain. Obese individuals are at higher risk for developing gout, as obesity leads to higher uric acid levels. The feet are common sites for gout attacks.


Poor Circulation Contributes to Foot Ulcers


Obesity often coincides with poor circulation in the lower extremities. This is due to fatty deposits building up in the arteries, obstructing blood flow. Those with poor circulation in their feet take much longer to heal from any wounds or ulcers. Even small blisters or abrasions can deteriorate into chronic, non-healing ulcers. These ulcers are highly prone to dangerous infections like cellulitis and osteomyelitis.


Higher Risk of Fungal Infections


Obesity can increase the risk of interdigital maceration, a condition that occurs when the skin between the toes is exposed to prolonged moisture or friction, leading to the softening, white appearance and breakdown of the skin. This can create an environment where bacteria and fungi can thrive, which can lead to infection and further complications. The extra fat in obese individuals pushes the toes together, creating a warm and moist environment between the toes. Obese patients must practice meticulous foot hygiene to avoid fungal infections like athlete’s foot. Fungal infections thrive in the warm, moist environment between overlapping toes. Interdigital maceration can occur when the skin between the toes is exposed to prolonged moisture or friction, leading to the softening and breakdown of the skin. This can create an environment where fungi can easily infect the damaged skin.


An Image of Overlapping Toes
An Image of Overlapping Toes

It is important to note that interdigital maceration can happen to anyone, but it can be worse when a person has overlapping toes. However, one can have overlapping toes without interdigital maceration. Fungal infections can occur without interdigital maceration, but the presence of interdigital maceration can increase the risk of fungal infections as fungi thrive in warm, moist environments. It is important to practice good foot hygiene to reduce the risk of fungal infections like athlete's foot.


Interdigital Maceration
Interdigital Maceration


Prevention and Treatment


The key is managing one's weight through diet and exercise. Losing excess pounds reduces stress and pressure on the feet. Custom orthotics can improve arch support and foot alignment. Anti-inflammatories and physical therapy help relieve pain from overuse injuries. Podiatric care is crucial for diabetics to prevent and treat foot ulcers. Avoid going barefoot to prevent transmission of fungi. Ultimately, maintaining an appropriate weight is vital for maintaining foot health.


In summary, obesity takes a major toll on our foot structure and function. Extra body weight stresses the feet beyond their limits, resulting in myriad problems from heel pain to non-healing ulcers. Joint pain, poor circulation, and fungal infections are also common issues obese patients face. Losing excess weight is imperative, along with orthotics, medications, and podiatric treatment as needed. With obesity at epidemic proportions, feet are suffering under the strain. As podiatrists, it is our job to educate patients and provide relief to their overburdened feet.


Key Takeaways


Carrying excess weight puts significant stress on the feet, leading to conditions like plantar fasciitis and collapsed arches.


  • Obesity increases the risk of gout attacks in the feet due to high uric acid levels.

  • Poor circulation from obesity can cause nonhealing foot ulcers and infections.

  • You can also have fungal infection without digital maceration but digital maceration will most likely lead to fungal infections, because fungus likes warm, moist environments.

  • Losing weight through diet and exercise is key to reducing foot problems associated with obesity.

  • Orthotics, medications, and podiatric care can also help manage foot health issues related to obesity.


FAQs


Q: Why are obese individuals more prone to heel pain?


A: The extra weight carried puts excessive strain on the plantar fascia tissue, resulting in inflammation at the heel known as plantar fasciitis.


Q: How does obesity contribute to flat feet?


A: The excess weight causes the arches to overpronate and collapse excessively, leading to flat feet over time.


Q: What infections are obese individuals at risk for in their feet?


A: Poor circulation can cause non-healing foot ulcers which are prone to dangerous infections like cellulitis and osteomyelitis.


Q: How can obese patients prevent fungal infections on their feet?


A: Meticulous foot hygiene, keeping feet dry, wearing breathable socks, and avoiding going barefoot can help prevent fungal infections.


Q: What is the best way to improve foot health related to obesity?


A: Losing excess weight through diet and exercise is the key. Orthotics, physical therapy, and medications can also provide relief.

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