Fashion vs. your feet
Do yourself a favor this summer and wear properly fitted shoes. Your feet — and maybe your back, neck shoulders and legs — will love you for it.
Although genetics and active lifestyles play a role, many foot problems could be eliminated if people bought shoes that felt good. Instead, many men and especially women choose fashion over comfort and wear shoes that squeeze their toes, scrape their heels and fail to support their arches.
The biggest culprits we see in offending footwear are high heels and flip-flops.
Not only do high heels cause foot pain and deformities, they also cause neck, back and shoulder pain for the way they redistribute our weight and make us walk. Recent studies have linked high heels with arthritis, an unnatural gait, ingrown toenails and pinched nerves. I had one patient who said switching to more comfortable shoes eliminated her headaches.
Prolonged wearing of high heels actually can change your anatomy; it shortens and thickens your Achilles tendon and tightens your calf muscles to the point that some women, later in life, struggle to comfortably walk barefoot or return to flat shoes.
The narrow toe box in many high heels crushes the toes together. Danger increases with the height of the heel. For instance, the difference between a three-inch heel and a one-inch heel is seven times your body weight on the balls of your feet.
Other common problems related to high heels are corns and calluses, bunions and hammer toe. Remember, foot pain is not normal. If your feet hurt when you walk, it might be time to think about a shoe change.
We recognize that many women are reluctant to give up their high heels. A survey recently conducted by the American Podiatric Medical Association showed that 42 percent of women would wear a shoe even if it caused discomfort and 73 percent already admitted having a shoe-related foot issue. We’ve read reports of women who have had parts of their toes amputated so they could better fit into heels.
We’re urging women to limit heels to special occasions for short periods of time. Consistent, prolonged wear dramatically raises the risk of problems. Here are some other ways you can continue to enjoy wearing heels, with precautions.
• Wear wedge heels instead of stilettos; they maintain a more solid foundation.
• Limit the drop between the heel and the forefoot to no more than one and one-half inches.
• Engage in a stretching routine, have a hot bath or massage, to loosen muscles and tendons stressed after wearing high heels.
• Buy shoes at the end of the day when feet are at their longest.
• Leave enough room for half the width of your thumb between the longest toe and the end of the shoe.
One of the biggest problems we see with flip-flops is the development of plantar faciitis, an aching pain or tenderness in the heel that is often caused by inadequate support and cushioning. Flip-flops also tend to widen the feet, making it hard for some chronic wearers to go back to their regular shoe. Like high heels, flip-flips are fine in moderation. But when worn daily for prolonged periods, they expose the feet to injuries, sunburn and stress fractures.
We want you to enjoy the shoes you love and that make you look good. We just don’t want you to hurt yourself in the process.
Dr. Jane E. Graebner is a podiatrist and active member of the Grady Memorial Hospital medical staff.