BACKGROUND: Foot problems are common in older people and are associated with impaired balance and functional ability. Few prospective studies, however, have been undertaken to determine whether foot problems are a risk factor for falls. METHODS: One hundred seventy-six people (56 men and 120 women, mean age 80.1, standard deviation 6.4 years) residing in a retirement village underwent tests of foot and ankle characteristics (including foot posture, range of motion, strength, and deformity) and physiological falls risk factors (including vision, sensation, strength, reaction time, and balance) and were followed for 12 months to determine the incidence of falls. RESULTS: Seventy-one participants (41%) reported falling during the follow-up period. Compared to those who did not fall, fallers exhibited decreased ankle flexibility, more severe hallux valgus deformity, decreased plantar tactile sensitivity, and decreased toe plantarflexor strength; they were also more likely to have disabling foot pain. Discriminant function analysis revealed that decreased toe plantarflexor strength and disabling foot pain were significantly and independently associated with falls after accounting for physiological falls risk factors and age. CONCLUSIONS: Foot and ankle problems increase the risk of falls in older people. Interventions to address these factors may hold some promise as a falls prevention strategy.