BACKGROUND: In a cross sectional study of 88 indoor and outdoor English pig farms, the prevalence of foot and limb lesions in 2843 preweaning piglets aged 1-4 weeks from 304 litters was recorded. The environmental risks for the prevalence of lesions and population attributable fractions were calculated. The risks for lesions in piglets were compared with those for limb and body lesions in their mothers. A small number of piglets with each type of lesion were examined post mortem to elucidate the pathology of the clinical lesions observed. RESULTS: The prevalence of sole bruising, sole erosion, skin abrasion and swollen joints or claws in 2843 piglets was 49.4% (1404), 15.5% (441), 43.6% (1240) and 4.7% (143) respectively. The prevalence of all foot and limb lesions was higher in indoor housed piglets than in outdoor housed piglets. The prevalence of sole bruising (OR 0.3) and skin abrasion (OR 0.6) decreased with each week of age from 1-4 weeks, but there was no significant association between piglet age and the prevalence of sole erosion or swollen joints and claws. There was an increased prevalence of sole bruising (OR 3.0) and swollen joints or claws (OR 3.0) and a decreased prevalence of skin abrasion (OR 0.3, piglets <or= 1-week old), in piglets housed on slatted floors, compared with those on solid concrete floors with bedding. There was an increased risk of sole erosion associated with piglets housed on partly slatted floors with no bedding (OR 2.4) and partly slatted floors with small amounts of bedding (OR 2.9) compared with piglets housed on solid concrete floors with bedding in all areas of the pen. Post mortem examination of feet with lesions indicated that internal pathological changes were frequently more severe than the degree of external damage suggested. CONCLUSION: Piglets housed outdoors had a very low prevalence of foot and limb injuries. Indoors, no one floor type was ideal to minimise all piglet foot and limb injuries and the flooring requirements of sows differed from those of piglets.