Numerous differences exist between men and women with regard to the foot and ankle. The shape, size, and architecture of the structures exhibit many distinctions between them. The appearance of a photographed foot, for example, often can be described as masculine or feminine purely based on its appearance. On average, women have four times more foot problems than men do. Differences in the structure of women's feet can put them at greater risk for foot injuries. Women tend to have more loose ligaments, a wider forefoot, shorter arch length and metatarsals, as well as greater plantar flexion and range of motion.
High heels are often the culprits as they tend to push the body weight forward onto the front metatarsals, and often squeeze the toes together into a point, causing calluses and corns. When the body weight is pushed forward, it changes the way an individual walks, which could have long-term detrimental effects. Bunions, hammertoes, and neuromas can also be the result of ill-fitting shoes. Females in general tend to have greater joint mobility and their ligaments are more flexible than males which can contribute to more ankle sprains, foot injuries or other issues causing foot and ankle pain. When a woman’s foot hits the ground while walking or running, there is more pronation that occurs. Increased pronation can cause heel pain, tendonitis, bunions, calluses and more.
Men, on the whole, wear shoes that are more comfortable than women's high fashion shoes, leading to a lower rate of foot problems. While it's true that more men than women work in construction, highway work, and perform manual labor, more women than men have jobs where they need to stand. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, roughly 75% of teachers and 90% of nurses are women. Other jobs that are typically dominated by women that involve long periods of standing with pressure on the feet include those who work in retail, hairdressers, servers, and house cleaners.
Foot and ankle specialists should take the biomechanical and anatomic differences between male and females into account when evaluating patients’ feet. While some like bunions and hammertoes are more common in women, there are many foot problems that both men and women suffer from equally. Understanding why these types of problems occur is the best way to prevent them or reduce their impact on your daily activities. Custom orthotics are inserts made specifically for each patient from a mold of the foot and the differences between gender can be incorporated into these devices to allow for the best function of the foot.
Dr. Jeffrey S. Hurless
DPM, FACFAS Board Certified Foot & Ankle Surgeon/Podiatrist
Medical Director, HealthyFeetStore.com