Wearing healthy footwear can help prevent falls

According to research carried out by Age UK, every year in the UK around one-third of people aged over 65 will fall. Falls account for more than 4 million hospital bed days a year in England alone. Research shows that a significant number of falls are the result of wearing footwear that doesn’t fit properly or offer enough support.

Slippers are equally important to offer support and stability within the home

A study published in the British Medical Journal found that a multi-faceted foot care programme can reduce the number of falls by 36%. It stated that foot and ankle exercises, foot orthoses and wearing appropriate footwear are all key in preventing falls.

Older people should be advised about the importance of wearing well-fitting shoes and about the characteristics that can aid walking and gait. The NHS guidelines for safe footwear are very much in-line with those promoted by the Healthy Footwear Guide. They recommend:

  • An upper made of leather or breathable natural or synthetic materials with seam-free linings.

  • A deep and roomy toe-box at the front of the shoe to prevent pressure on the toes and joints on the side of the foot.

  • A cushioned and flexible light rubber sole with good grip.

  • A heel no more than 3 centimetres (one and a half inches) high and broad enough to provide stability.

  • Laces, buckles or Velcro strap fastenings that hold the shoe comfortably and securely on the foot. Avoid slip on shoes. 

 

Some footwear can increase the risk of slips, trips and falls. It can cause poor balance and gait or make it difficult to judge surface friction and distance from the floor. The NHS recommend avoiding:

  • Shoes that are too big or small, or with squashed backs.

  • Smooth leather or plastic soles, and thick rubber soles that extend over the toe.

  • Lace up shoes that are untied or without laces.

  • High heeled or backless shoes.

What other factors can contribute toward falls?

Foot conditions such as bunions, claw toes, ingrown toe nails and general foot pain can all cause problems with gait and balance.

Older people should be advised to check their feet regularly and speak to their GP or podiatrist if they have any reduction in foot sensation or develop foot pain.

Following a simple foot care routine can help reduce the risk of falls by preventing some of the conditions that cause pain and problems. This includes:

  • Washing and drying feet daily to prevent infection

  • Applying moisturiser to keep skin healthy

  • Cutting toenails regularly

  • Regular podiatry for the management of foot problems

Exercise also plays a vital role in falls prevention. Research trials have shown that a programme of strength and balance can be very effective in reducing the risk. Older people should be encouraged to carry out regular exercise to improve toe and ankle strength as this can help improve balance.