Bunions, High-Arched Feet Often Inherited

Researchers Explain Steps You Can Take to Prevent Foot Problems

Medically Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD on November 11, 2010

Nov. 11, 2010 (Atlanta) -- If one of your parents has bunions or high-arched feet, there's a good chance you may inherit the foot problem.

That's according to new findings from researchers who examined more than 6,000 feet as part of the Framingham Foot Study. The findings were presented here at the 2010 American College of Rheumatology Annual Scientific Meeting.

"Foot disorders have high heritability," says study head Marian T. Hannan, DSc, MPH, associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.

"That's important, especially for younger people, as there are things you can do to slow the rate of progression and even to prevent many of these problems in the first place," she tells WebMD.

Hannan says she believes the study is the first to examine the association between foot problems and genetics.

Who Has Foot Problems

Foot disorders affect 20% to 60% of adults and often cause problems walking and getting around.

The current analysis looked at bunions (hallux valgus), an enlargement of bone or tissue around the joint at the base of the big toe, as well as high-arched feet (pes cavus), where the bottom of the foot is overly-arched and hollowed, even when bearing weight.

Of the 2,179 people who had their feet examined between 2002 and 2005, 675 participants (31%) had bunions and 154 participants (7%) had high-arched feet. Their average age was 66; 57% were women.

Using statistical genetics software, the researchers found that:

  • Bunions were inherited in 39% of the women and 38% of the men.
  • 89% of participants with bunions under age 60 had inherited the condition.
  • High-arched feet were inherited in 68% of the women and 20% of the men.
  • 99% of women under 60 with high-arched feet inherited the condition as did 63% of younger men.

The researchers are now trying to pinpoint the gene or genes involved, Hannan says.

How to Prevent Foot Problems

Wilmer Sibbitt, MD, of the University of New Mexico School of Medicine in Albuquerque, tells WebMD that people whose parents have foot problems should take steps to try to prevent getting the same problem themselves.

"The intervention depends on the problem," he says. In general, however, he says that good foot hygiene involves:

  • Avoiding tight shoes that pinch on or crush the toes, such as cowboy boots.
  • Wearing roomy shoes that allow your toes to spread out.
  • Wearing low or flat heels.
  • Wearing shoes with good arch supports.

If you have bunions, avoid activities that put pressure on your big toe and foot, such as swimming or bicycling. But don't give up exercise because of toe pain, Sibbitt says.

This study was presented at a medical conference. The findings should be considered preliminary as they have not yet undergone the "peer review" process, in which outside experts scrutinize the data prior to publication in a medical journal.

Show Sources


American College of Rheumatology 2010 Annual Scientific Meeting, Atlanta, Nov. 6-11, 2 010.

Marian T. Hannan DSc, MPH, associate professor of medicine, Harvard Medical School.

Wilmer Sibbitt, MD, University of New Mexico School of Medicine, Albuquerque.

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