There’s no such thing as normal: variety in healthy feet
Article by Timothy Maiden
Senior Podiatrist at The Foot Practice (Singapore)
“Is it normal?” must be one of the most commonly asked questions in medical history.
There’s actually been surprisingly little research done on ‘normal’ feet in adults. Because feet are hidden away in shoes most of the time, we don’t see the natural variation the way we do with facial features or body shape. People only seek medical help if they’re in pain, so there’s lots of research done about conditions like bunions or hammer toes, but very little done about the range of different shapes which characterise healthy feet.
The rough estimate is that around 11% of adults have flat feet (https://www.researchgate.net/publication/266142136_Prevalence_of_flat_foot_among_18_-25_years_old_physiotherapy_students_cross_sectional_study), while high arches affect around 10-15% (http://www.acnr.co.uk/2013/01/pes-cavus-not-just-a-clinical-sign-diagnosis-aetiology-and-management/), and everyone else is ‘normal’. The statistics indicate that children have higher rates of foot deformities – but perhaps this is just because attentive parents take their children to the doctor for fairly mild problems, whereas adults are less keen to seek help for themselves. (http://www2.cmu.edu.tw/~mtjm/full-text/14%281%29p1-9.PDF)
Feet are often divided into categories according to their appearance. “Peasant” feet are square-looking with stubby toes all a similar length; “Greek” feet have a peaked appearance, with the second toe longer than the big toe; and “Egyptian” feet look tapered, with the big toe the longest and the others of decreasing sizes. But these aren’t medical descriptions, just loose descriptions used by shoe manufacturers. (http://www.pointeshoesonline.com/foot-shape/)
The official description of a normal foot, as found in medical textbooks, is a list of features written by a long-dead podiatrist and never really tested by science (http://www.podiatrytoday.com/what-%E2%80%98normal%E2%80%99-foot). Sydney University is currently conducting a “1000 Norms” project, collecting and analysing data on the anatomy of healthy people (http://sydney.edu.au/health-sciences/research/1000-norms.shtml), but it will be years until the project is completed and we have a clearer picture.
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