BACKGROUND: In recent decades, studies on the management of common foot problems in children have suggested that in many cases, there is no indication for treatment. It is not known whether these studies have changed daily practice.
OBJECTIVE: Our aim was to establish and compare incidence and referral rates for foot problems in children in 1987 and 2001.
METHODS: A comparison was made of two large consecutive surveys in Dutch general practice performed in 1987 (86 577 children aged 0-17 years) and 2001 (87 952 children aged 0-17 years), which were carried out by The Netherlands Institute for Health Services Research. Both surveys included a representative sample of the Dutch population. Incidence and referral rates were calculated and, data were stratified for age group and gender.
RESULTS: Compared to 1987, in 2001 the overall incidence rate of foot problems presented to the family physician (FP) decreased substantially from 80.0 [95% confidence interval (CI) 77.0-84.7] to 17.4 (95% CI 16.5-18.3) per 1000 person-years (P < 0.0001). The incidence rate of flat feet decreased from 4.9 (95% CI 4.0-5.9) per 1000 person-years in 1987 to 3.4 (95% CI 3.0-3.8) per 1000 person-years in 2001 (P = 0.001). The distribution of referrals to other primary health care professionals and medical specialists has almost reversed in favour of primary health care professionals.
CONCLUSION: Total incidence rate of musculoskeletal foot problems seen by the FP has decreased substantially, between 1987 and 2001.