To examine the relationship between obesity, body composition, and foot pain as assessed by the Manchester Foot Pain and Disability Index (MFPDI).
To examine the relationship between obesity, body composition, and foot pain as assessed by the Manchester Foot Pain and Disability Index (MFPDI).
Subjects 25–62 years of age (n = 136) were recruited as part of a study examining the relationship between obesity and musculoskeletal health. Foot pain was defined as current foot pain and pain in the last month, and an MFPDI score of ≥1. Body composition (tissue mass and fat distribution) was measured using dual x-ray absorptiometry.
The body mass index (BMI) in this population was normally distributed around a mean of 32.1 kg/m2. The prevalence of foot pain was 55.1%. There was a positive association between BMI and foot pain (odds ratio [OR] 1.11, 95% confidence interval [95% CI] 1.06–1.17). Foot pain was also positively associated with fat mass (OR 1.05, 95% CI 1.02–1.09) and fat mass index (FMI; OR 1.16, 95% CI 1.06–1.28) when adjusted for age, sex, and skeletal muscle mass and age, sex, and fat-free mass index (FFMI), respectively. When examining fat distribution, positive associations were observed for android/total body fat ratio (OR 1.42, 95% CI 1.11–1.83) and android/gynoid fat ratio (OR 35.15, 95% CI 2.60–475.47), although gynoid/total body fat ratio was inversely related to foot pain (OR 0.83, 95% CI 0.73–0.93). Skeletal muscle mass and FFMI were not associated with foot pain when adjusted for fat mass or FMI, respectively.
Increasing BMI, specifically android fat mass, is strongly associated with foot pain and disability. This may imply both biomechanical and metabolic mechanisms.
Foot pain and disability associated with foot pain are problems that affect approximately 14% of adolescents and up to 42% of adults over the age of 65 years (1–4). A previous study of obese children and adolescents reported foot pain as the second most common musculoskeletal symptom (5). Similarly, in adults, positive associations have been reported with regards to foot pain and obesity (6), noting a higher prevalence of foot pain in obese older adults not only compared to normal-weight older adults, but also compared to those who are overweight (7).
There are a number of mechanisms by which obesity may affect the foot. These include biomechanical changes to foot structure, such as pes planus, and changes to the plantar fat pad, including increased plantar pressures, inadequate muscular strength and/or power, particularly in activities requiring movement against gravity, and changes to gait (8). However, a recent study of other joints suggests that the metabolic correlates of body composition and its accompanying adipokine profile also affect joint pain as well as structure, such that those with a higher adiponectin/leptin (A/L) ratio have lower pain levels (9). This may also relate to a systemic effect on small joints, as exemplified by the recognized association between obesity and hand osteoarthritis (OA), which affects a non–weight-bearing joint (10, 11). Taken together, it is clear that in order to understand the relationship between obesity and joint disease, it is important to examine body composition as well as other measures of obesity, such as body mass index (BMI).
A number of methods for examining foot symptoms have been explored. Previously used questionnaires, such as the Stanford Health Assessment Questionnaire and the Functional Limitation Profile, while able to give indication of locomotor dysfunction, lack the capacity to measure disability associated with foot pain (12). More recently, the Manchester Foot Pain and Disability Index (MFPDI) was developed as a self-administrated questionnaire to assess foot-related problems (12–14). The MFPDI has been validated in rheumatology patients, patients of general health practitioners who have reported foot-related problems, and people from the general community. The aim of this study was to examine the relationship between obesity and body composition and foot pain as assessed by the MFPDI in a population ranging from healthy to obese.
The association between obesity and foot pain is well known.
Whether body composition is related to foot pain remains unclear.
We demonstrate a relationship between foot pain and android distribution of fat in particular.
Twenty-three men (mean ± SD age 47.6 ± 8.1 years) and 114 women (mean ± SD age 47.5 ± 9.2 years) who ranged from normal weight to obese were recruited. Recruitment was through the local media and public, private, and community weight loss clinics. Subjects were excluded if there was a history of any arthropathy diagnosed by a medical practitioner, prior surgical intervention to the lower extremity, or previous significant knee injury requiring non–weight-bearing therapy or requiring prescribed analgesia, malignancy, or contraindication to magnetic resonance imaging. The study was approved by the Alfred Hospital Human Research and Ethics Committee and the Monash standing research ethics committee. Informed consent was obtained from all participants.
Study participants completed a questionnaire that included information on their demographics. Weight was measured to the nearest 0.1 kg (shoes, socks, and bulky clothing were removed) using a single pair of electronic scales. Height was measured to the nearest 0.1 cm (shoes and socks were removed) using a stadiometer. From these data, BMI in kg/m2 was calculated. Subjects' participation in strenuous physical activity was ascertained by the question, “On how many days during the last 14 days did you spend at least 20 minutes doing strenuous exercise? E.g. bicycling, brisk walking, etc that was severe enough to raise your pulse rate, cause you to breathe faster,” as previously described (15). There are no referenced standards for what constitutes significant strenuous activity. We used this definition of strenuous because this is what we have previously found to be associated with other musculoskeletal effects (16).
The MFPDI was used to assess foot pain and disability due to foot pain. Foot pain was defined according to the MFPDI case definition for disabling foot pain, where a subject is classified as having foot pain if they have current foot pain and pain in the last month, as well as recording an MFPDI score of ≥1 (12).
Body composition was measured using dual x-ray absorptiometry (DXA; GE Medical-Lunar using operating system version 9). The machine has a weight limit of approximately 160 kg. Standard regional analyses were used to measure total body, trunk, android, and gynoid fat mass. Android fat mass refers to adipose tissue that accumulates in the abdomen region, and gynoid fat mass refers to adipose tissue accumulation around the hips. Total extremity lean tissue mass was calculated as the sum of upper extremity lean tissue mass and lower extremity lean tissue mass, which was then converted to total body skeletal muscle mass using a prediction model developed and validated in adults (BMI <35 kg/m2) (17). Short-term coefficients of variation, assessed in 15 normal young adults, were 1.2% for total body fat mass and 0.4% for total body lean tissue mass (15). Based on the DXA data, fat mass index (FMI) and fat-free mass index (FFMI) were calculated as follows: FMI = fat mass/height2 and FFMI = fat-free mass/height2, where fat-free mass = lean tissue mass + bone mineral content. FMI and FFMI were normalized separately for height, thus allowing height-independent assessment of nutrition status, comparison of results between studies, and the development of body composition percentile tables (18).
The mental component summary (MCS) of the Short Form 36 (SF-36) was used to examine psychological health and well-being. The SF-36 is a self-reported measure used to assess health-related quality of life (19). Low MCS scores indicate frequent psychological distress and social and role disability due to emotional problems, whereas high MCS scores indicate frequent positive effect, absence of psychological distress, and limitations in usual social/role activities due to emotional problems.
The difference in body composition between those with and those without foot pain was calculated using independent-samples t-tests and chi-square tests. Logistic regression was performed to assess the relationship between measures of body composition and foot pain. The multivariate analyses were adjusted for age, sex, and measures of body composition (fat mass, skeletal muscle mass, FMI, or FFMI, as appropriate). Logistic regression was also used to assess the relationship between fat distribution and foot pain, adjusted for age and sex in the multivariate regression. Sex was considered a potential confounder as a sex difference has been reported with regard to pain perception (20) as well as obesity, in particular body fat distribution (21). Further adjustment for the MCS of the SF-36 was performed since there is increasing interest in the role of psychological well-being in obesity (22, 23), and because it has been linked to pain (24, 25). Adjustments for measures of body composition were made to establish whether the relationship between obesity and foot pain is chiefly attributable to one measure in particular, or whether they contribute equally. P values less than 0.05 (2-tailed) were regarded as statistically significant. A further Bonferroni correction was used to take into account the potential issue of multiple testing whereby a P value equal to 0.05 divided by the number of analyses was considered as stronger evidence for significance. All analyses were performed using the SPSS statistical package (standard version 18.0).
The characteristics of the study population are shown in Table 1. Seventy-five subjects (55.1%) reported foot pain. When the subjects with and without foot pain were compared (Table 1), they did not differ significantly in terms of age or sex; however, those with foot pain had a higher mean BMI (P < 0.001), higher total fat mass (P < 0.001), and higher FMI (P < 0.001) and FFMI (P = 0.02) than those without foot pain. However, the 2 groups did not significantly differ in skeletal muscle mass. Figure 1 shows the difference in mean FMI and FFMI between those with and without foot pain.
|Total sample (n = 136)||Foot pain (n = 75)||No foot pain (n = 61)||P|
|Age, years||47.5 ± 9.0||47.5 ± 9.2||47.7 ± 8.8||0.90†|
|Sex, no. women (%)||114 (83.1)||66 (88.0)||48 (77.1)||0.90‡|
|BMI, kg/m2||32.1 ± 8.4||35.1 ± 7.8||28.4 ± 7.6||<0.001†|
|Total fat mass, kg||36.9 ± 17.3||43.1 ± 15.7||29.2 ± 16.1||<0.001†|
|Total skeletal muscle mass, kg||23.4 ± 5.2||23.6 ± 5.3||23.1 ± 5.2||0.60†|
|FMI||13.7 ± 6.7||16.2 ± 6.2||10.6 ± 6.0||<0.001†|
|FFMI||18.4 ± 2.7||18.8 ± 2.6||17.8 ± 2.6||0.02†|
We examined the relationship between BMI and body composition and foot pain (Table 2). BMI and foot pain were significantly related in univariate analysis (odds ratio [OR] 1.12, 95% confidence interval [95% CI] 1.06–1.17). This remained significant when adjusted for age and sex (OR 1.11, 95% CI 1.06–1.17) (Table 2). Similarly, fat mass was also positively associated with foot pain. In the multivariate analysis, adjusted for age and sex, there was a positive association between foot pain and total body fat mass (OR 1.05, 95% CI 1.03–1.08). Moreover, when further adjusted for skeletal muscle mass, we found that the association between total body fat and foot pain remained statistically significant (OR 1.05, 95% CI 1.02–1.09) (Table 2). These remained significant even when using a Bonferroni adjustment for multiple testing that would consider P < 0.01 as significant in these analyses. Conversely, while skeletal muscle mass was positively associated with foot pain, adjusted for age and sex, significance was lost when adjusting for fat mass (Table 2). Furthermore, in the univariate analyses, there were positive associations between both FMI and FFMI and foot pain; however, while the association between FMI and foot pain remained significant after adjusting for FFMI, FFMI was not significantly associated with foot pain when adjusted for FMI (Figure 1).
|Univariate OR (95% CI)||P||Multivariate OR (95% CI)||P|
|BMI||1.12 (1.06–1.17)||<0.001||1.11 (1.06–1.17)†||<0.001‡|
|Total fat mass||1.05 (1.03–1.08)||<0.001||1.05 (1.02–1.09)§||0.001‡|
|Total skeletal muscle mass||1.02 (0.95–1.09)||0.59||0.99 (0.86–1.15)¶||0.91|
|FMI||1.16 (1.09–1.23)||<0.001||1.16 (1.06–1.28)#||0.002‡|
|FFMI||1.18 (1.03–1.35)||0.02||0.99 (0.78–1.25)**||0.91|
We further analyzed the role of fat distribution in foot pain (Table 3). There was a positive association between percent total body fat and foot pain (OR 1.10, 95% CI 1.05–1.14) when adjusted for age and sex. Android/total body fat ratio, which effectively represents percent android fat, was also significantly associated with foot pain, where for every 1% increase in android fat the odds for foot pain were increased by 1.42 (95% CI 1.11–1.83). Similarly, a positive association was observed between android/gynoid fat ratio and foot pain (OR 35.15, 95% CI 2.60–475.47). In contrast, increased gynoid/total body fat ratio, or increased percent gynoid fat, was associated with a reduced OR for foot pain, where for every 1% increase in gynoid fat the odds for foot pain were decreased by 0.83 (95% CI 0.73–0.93). No significant results were found for either trunk/total body fat ratio, trunk/total extremity fat ratio, or trunk/lower extremity fat ratio. All results remained significant when further adjusted for height (data not shown). The relationships between percent total body fat, android/total body fat ratio, android/gynoid fat ratio, and gynoid/total body fat ratio and foot pain remained significant even when using a Bonferroni adjustment for multiple testing that would consider P < 0.007 as significant in these analyses. Moreover, we investigated whether the associations between obesity and body composition and foot pain were affected by mental status or physical activity. Adjusting for either the MCS of the SF-36 or strenuous physical activity did not affect the results.
|Univariate OR (95% CI)||P||Multivariate OR (95% CI)†||P|
|Percent total body fat||1.09 (1.05–1.13)||<0.001||1.10 (1.05–1.14)||<0.001‡|
|Android/total body fat ratio||1.22 (0.99–1.50)||0.07||1.42 (1.11–1.83)||0.01|
|Gynoid/total body fat ratio||0.85 (0.76–0.95)||0.005||0.83 (0.73–0.93)||0.002‡|
|Android/gynoid fat ratio||9.55 (1.0–91.51)||0.05||35.15 (2.60–475.47)||0.01|
|Trunk/total body fat ratio||1.01 (0.96–1.06)||0.76||1.05 (0.98–1.12)||0.17|
|Trunk/total extremity fat ratio||0.78 (0.29–2.10)||0.63||1.50 (0.40–5.56)||0.54|
|Trunk/lower extremity fat ratio||0.89 (0.45–1.78)||0.75||1.40 (0.57–3.39)||0.48|
In this study, we have shown that obesity is associated with foot pain and that this relationship was most strongly associated with fat mass, particularly in the android distribution. It did not appear that weight per se was the reason for the association, as skeletal muscle mass was not significantly associated with foot pain once adjusted for fat mass. While obesity may affect foot pain biomechanically (e.g., via increased loading or changes to gait), given that all parameters of fat mass but not muscle mass were associated with foot pain, as well as the observation that the relationship between an androgenic distribution of fat differed from a gynoid distribution in relation to foot pain, it may also be that systemic processes associated with adipose tissue also play a role.
To date, studies examining the relationship between obesity and foot structure have used BMI as a surrogate for obesity (26–28), and, as with our study, have predominantly shown a positive relationship between obesity and foot pain, although one study in an older cohort (≥70 years of age) reported no difference in BMI between those with and without foot pain (14). We have further extended these observations by examining the associations of body composition with foot pain. We demonstrated that those with foot pain have significantly higher fat mass than those without foot pain. However, no difference was detected in skeletal muscle mass between those with and without foot pain. The fact that the association of fat mass and foot pain remained significant after adjusting for skeletal muscle mass suggests that the mechanism of action may not simply be via loading of the joint, but that an increase in adipose mass may also have a systemic effect contributing to foot pain.
Although fat mass and fat-free mass are commonly used to assess body composition, expression of absolute fat mass and fat-free mass in kilograms is more complicated than it may appear since these are closely related to height and age. For example, lower fat-free mass in the elderly may be due to either changes in body composition or reduction in height associated with aging (18). To overcome these difficulties, FMI and FFMI were developed as a method that allows independent assessment for fat mass and fat-free mass, normalized separately for height (29). Our study demonstrated that, in addition to fat mass being positively associated with foot pain, a similar association was also seen between FMI and foot pain but not FFMI, which further supports the notion that obesity impacts foot pain through a more systemic rather than biomechanical effect, and that this is independent of height.
The importance of fat distribution is widely recognized, particularly in relation to the differing effects of upper body and lower body fat accumulation (30, 31). Android fat mass, which refers to adipose tissue that accumulates in the abdomen region, has been linked to an elevated risk of type 2 diabetes mellitus and cardiovascular disease (32). Gynoid fat mass refers to adipose tissue accumulation around the hips and, in contrast to android fat, has been linked to a more favorable lipid and glucose profile, as well as a reduced risk of cardiovascular and metabolic diseases (31). Our results showed that higher percent android fat increased the odds for foot pain, while higher percent gynoid fat decreased the odds. We also showed that android/gynoid fat ratio was positively associated with foot pain. This suggests a differing mechanism of action of fat on the foot depending on where it is accumulated, further suggesting a systemic involvement of adipose tissue on foot pain, since we would otherwise expect accumulation of fat in any site of the body to have a similar effect. Nonetheless, we cannot rule out a potential involvement of biomechanical mechanisms, since it is possible that carrying excess load in the abdomen region versus the gynoid region may affect a person's stance or gait and thus load the foot differently, producing a detrimental biomechanical environment.
The metabolic effects of adipose tissue are increasingly being recognized; adipose tissue is no longer seen as just a passive energy store, it is highly metabolically active. Adipose tissue produces a number of adipokines (33, 34), nearly all of which are dysregulated in obesity such that there is a downregulation of potentially beneficial adipokines and an overproduction of proinflammatory cytokines (34). Previous studies have shown the involvement of proinflammatory cytokines in hyperalgesia and the development and progression of chronic pain (35, 36). The metabolic correlates of the different patterns of fat distribution may underlie our observations. For example, android fat and gynoid fat have been shown to produce different adipokines, and it has been suggested that the protective effects of gynoid fat may be attributable to the secretion of the more beneficial adipokines leptin and adiponectin (31). In contrast, higher waist-to-hip ratio and central mass accumulation have been inversely associated with adiponectin levels (37). Perhaps more important than the individual concentrations of leptin and adiponectin is the A/L ratio. A study of adult Korean men demonstrated significant negative correlations between A/L ratio and measures of obesity and fat distribution, including body weight, BMI, percent body fat, and waist circumference (38). In addition, A/L ratio was also inversely correlated with pain in patients with knee OA, and this effect was greater than that for the individual adipokines alone (9), although whether the same effect would be seen in patients without OA is unclear.
A potential limitation of our study is multiple testing. However, our findings in relation to fat mass remained significant even if a Bonferroni correction, a very conservative method, was used to take this into account. The smaller proportion of men may also be another limitation. There are also several strengths, such as the consistency of findings in relation to fat mass and foot pain and disability, the inclusion of participants with a spectrum of weight extending from normal to obese, and the adjustment for confounders, including age, sex, and the measures of body composition (fat mass, skeletal muscle mass, FMI, or FFMI). Pain and disability were defined as current foot pain and pain in the last month, and at least 1 item on the MFPDI recorded on some days assessed using a self-administered questionnaire, which was previously validated by Garrow et al (12) for this purpose in a population of similar age. Although a more conservative definition has been proposed by other investigators (13), such that for foot pain to be present, participants were required to have at least 1 item on the MFPDI recorded on most days or every day, this method was validated for use in an older cohort (14). Therefore, we thought the definition used by Garrow et al was more appropriate for our study. Last, since our study population was initially recruited to examine the relationship between obesity and musculoskeletal disease, we had a higher prevalence of obese individuals than the general population. We also had a higher prevalence of subjects with foot pain than previously reported by other studies (2, 3, 39, 40). Nonetheless, when we excluded those who are obese (BMI ≥30 kg/m2), we had a similar prevalence of foot pain (34%) as previous studies (prevalence range 18–42%).
This study demonstrated that the effect of obesity on foot pain was related to an increase in adiposity, particularly in the android distribution of fat. In contrast, we showed a beneficial effect of a gynoid distribution of fat. The mechanism for the effect of obesity may be a combination of a mechanical effect via increased loading on the foot as well as a systemic effect. Since obesity is a modifiable risk factor, lifestyle and dietary changes that contribute to weight loss and promote better fat distribution may have an important role in symptomatic relief of foot pain. These data also suggest a role for metabolic factors that may also offer therapeutic targets in the management of foot pain and disability.
All authors were involved in drafting the article or revising it critically for important intellectual content, and all authors approved the final version to be published. Dr. Cicuttini had full access to all of the data in the study and takes responsibility for the integrity of the data and the accuracy of the data analysis.
Study conception and design. Wluka, Menz, Strauss, Proietto, Dixon, Jones, Cicuttini.
Acquisition of data. Tanamas, Wluka, Berry, Strauss, Davies-Tuck, Cicuttini.
Analysis and interpretation of data. Tanamas, Wluka, Menz, Strauss, Davies-Tuck, Jones, Cicuttini.
The authors would like to acknowledge Judy Hankin for doing duplicate volume measurements and recruitment of study subjects, the MRI Unit at the Epworth Hospital for their cooperation, and Kevin Morris for technical support. The authors would also like to give a special thank you to all of the study participants who made this study possible.