Experts at Keele University’s Arthritis Research UK Primary Care Centre studied more than 5,000 people with painful foot osteoarthritis.
The condition is caused by inflammation in and around the joints, damage to cartilage and swelling. People can suffer a range of symptoms including pain, stiffness and difficulty moving and often have osteoarthritis in other joints, such as hips or knees.
The study found that foot osteoarthritis affects more women than men, while those who have spent a lot of time in manual work are more likely to develop it.
Three-quarters of people with the condition reported having difficulty with simple day-to-day activities such as walking, standing, housework and shopping.
Dr Edward Roddy, clinical senior lecturer in rheumatology at Keele University, said the research had focussed on “midfoot” joints, which previous studies have neglected to do.
He said a “substantial proportion of people” with painful foot osteoarthritis have the problem in this area, meaning there has been a previous underestimate in how common it is.
He added: “Foot osteoarthritis is a more common and disabling problem than we previously thought, making everyday tasks difficult and painful for people affected.
“While it’s been known for decades that joints in the foot can be affected by osteoarthritis, much of the previous research has focussed on the hip and knee areas, and research into the foot has concentrated almost entirely on the bunion joint at the base of the big toe.
“However, by looking at the whole foot and the impact on people’s lives, it’s clear the problem is more widespread than we anticipated.”
According to Arthritis Research UK, seven per cent of people aged 45 and over have sought treatment for osteoarthritis in the foot or ankle, including nine per cent of those aged 75 and over.
Spokesman Professor Anthony Redmond, said: “This is a very important study. We know that foot problems become more much common as we get older but the medical and healthcare community have been guilty in the past of dismissing this as just an inevitable part of ageing.”
He called for wider use of X-rays to check for signs of the condition in order to offer proper treatment.