Background Various structural and functional factors of foot function have been associated with high local plantar pressures. The therapist focuses on these features which are thought to be responsible for plantar ulceration in patients with diabetes. Risk assessment of the diabetic foot would be made easier if locally elevated plantar pressure could be indicated with a minimum set of clinical measures. Methods Ninety three patients were evaluated through vascular, orthopaedic, neurological and radiological assessment. A pressure platform was used to quantify the barefoot peak pressure for six forefoot regions: big toe (BT) and metatarsals one (MT-1) to five (MT-5). Stepwise regression modelling was performed to determine which set of the clinical and radiological measures explained most variability in local barefoot plantar peak pressure in each of the six forefoot regions. Comprehensive models were computed with independent variables from the clinical and radiological measurements. The difference between the actual plantar pressure and the predicted value was examined through Bland-Altman analysis. Results Forefoot pressures were significant higher in patients with neuropathy, compared to patients without neuropathy for the whole forefoot, the MT-1 region and the MT-5 region (respectively 138 kPa, 173 kPa and 88 kPa higher: mean difference). The clinical models explained up to 39 percent of the variance in local peak pressures. Callus formation and toe deformity were identified as relevant clinical predictors for all forefoot regions. Regression models with radiological variables explained about 26 percent of the variance in local peak pressures. For most regions the combination of clinical and radiological variables resulted in a higher explained variance. The Bland and Altman analysis showed a major discrepancy between the predicted and the actual peak pressure values. Conclusion At best, clinical and radiological measurements could only explain about 34 percent of the variance in local barefoot peak pressure in this population of diabetic patients. The prediction models constructed with linear regression are not useful in clinical practice because of considerable underestimation of high plantar pressure values. Identification of elevated plantar pressure without equipment for quantification of plantar pressure is inadequate. The use of quantitative plantar pressure measurement for diabetic foot screening is therefore advocated.