High Heels: A Woman’s best friend or feet’s worst enemy?
Another Oscars. Another year of female stars strutting their stuff down the red carpet wearing death-defying shoes.
This portrayal of fashion in the media without a doubt influences the type of shoes women choose to wear. While these shoes are aesthetically pleasing, do you ever wonder what impact they have on your feet?
We have seen the extent of injuries that sports such as basketball can cause for your feet, however, it is important to note that seemingly harmless activities; such as walking in high heels, can also have an impact on the health of your feet. Hilary Brenner, DPM, refers to the use of high heel shoes as “shoe-icide”, since it can lead to many problems ranging from ankle sprains to chronic pain.
A common problem most likely experienced by many women is a protrusion at the back of the heel, commonly called the “pump bump”. It is caused by the pressure of the shoe exerted on heel leading to swelling, blisters, bursitis and even Achilles tendonitis. To help relieve this problem, it is important to use ice, orthotics and better shoes.
Furthermore, wearing high heels puts your feet in an unnatural position, which causes jamming of bone joints. In high heels, the ball of the feet and toes are compressed causing the metatarsals, sesamoid and phalanges to meet and applies a great amount of pressure and stress on this area. This can cause inflammation of the bones and nerves surrounding the tissue, leading to severe pain, and can even result in hairline fracture if too much stress is exerted on this area. The solution to this problem is to wear lower heels in order to avoid the jamming of the metatarsal bones with other bones in the feet, preventing long term pain.
Many people enjoy the look of a fine pair of stilettos, however, this is probably the most dangerous shoe type for ankle sprains. Due to the narrowness of the heel, it creates an unstable base, causing a ‘wobbling’ effect, which in turn creates a higher chance of the wearer tripping and causing a lateral sprain to the ankle.
A go-to favourite of many people are the use of platforms. The rigidity of platforms prevents the feet from bending naturally, which affects the biomechanics of walking. Together with this, if the heel of the platform is higher than the toe area, it pressure on the metatarsal bones. It is advisable to avoid platforms since it is difficult to find a pair that supports the natural motion of walking.
Another classic look is the pointy-toed heel that many love and adore. The problem with this stylish shoe is that after time, the constant squeezing together of the entire front of the foot causes blisters, bunions, nerve pain and hammertoes. All the toes and bones associated with the toes, together with the metatarsals get jammed together and can lead to inflammation of the bone joints and surrounding nerves.
This constant pushing of the toes together in an unnatural position causes the base of the big toe to get displaced leading to the formation of a lump protruding at the base (known as a bunion). At early stages, bunions can be treated by wearing wider shoes, stretching or anti-inflammatory medication. Sever stages of bunions can be treated with a surgical procedure known as a bunionectomy.
Since high heels force the body weight of the wearer to the front of the foot, it is common for toes to try to ‘grip’ the shoe in order to maintain stability while walking. This constant motion can cause the joints in the toes to become rigid and form a hammertoe. With the formation of a hammertoe, when wearing closed toe shoes, the constant jamming of the toes onto the shoe can cause other problems such as calluses and corns. At early stages of hammertoe, you can wear roomier shoes, stretch the toe, tape or splint the toe and provide cushion and support (via orthotics) to treat the toe. Severe cases of hammertoe can be treated surgically.
So, if heels are bad for sprains, fractures, inflammation of the joints or nerves, bunions, calluses and corns, are flats the solution? Not necessarily. While flats provide a wide base and reduce the risk of pressure points and tripping, it is important to pay attention to arch support and the narrowness of the shoe. Lack of arch support in your shoe prevents the feet from functioning the way it should and can cause knee, hip and back problems in the long run. It is also commonly associated with plantar fasciitis. If the look of flats appeals to you, a solution to the prevention of these problems is the use of custom orthotics in your flats. Custom orthotics will provide the support your feet and arch needs in order to help the feet function properly, which prevents the problems outlined above.