Sep 28, 2011

Treating High-Heel Addiction: Five Ways to Lessen Self-Inflicted Foot Pain

I give up. Carrie Bradshaw and her gorgeous Sex and the City gal pals win. Women simply are not going to give up high heels, at least not in my lifetime.

As a podiatrist and surgeon, I’ve preached that over 85 percent of foot surgeries in this country – and at a cost of nearly $3.5 billion a year – are done on women. I’ve repeatedly said that pointed shoes with thin soles and spike heels lead to a range of foot, leg and back problems ranging from bunions, joint pain, stress fractures, calluses, corns, hammertoe, toenail problems, ball of foot pain, and tight heel cords (shortening of the Achilles tendon). Clearly I’m preaching to a choir who is tone deaf.

So, let’s move on. I’m offering five suggestions to those devout high-heelers who’ve already had it written into their will that they are to be buried in five-inch heels. Start slow, but try to incorporate as many of these ideas into your fashion sense as you can.

1. Shop for the right shoe: Three tips on shopping for shoes. First, it’s best to shop for shoes later in the day when your feet are a bit swollen and at their largest. Second, be sure and try on both shoes. Few of us have exactly the same sized feet.

Third, you need to understand that high heels are hard on all body parts south of your belt for several reasons. The most obvious is that a high heel throws your posture off its normal position, and then your body fights to regain control. (Recent SSPC blogs on “Footwear for Expectant Moms” and the new butt-firming shoes talked about the dangers of being unbalanced by your shoes.) The only advice I can offer here is to do a few laps around the shoe department in the desired shoes to see if you can control your gait. If you can’t, walk away.

2. Pay attention to the ‘pitch’ of the shoe: High heels pitch your body weight onto your toes which are then squeezed into a too-narrow toe box. It is precisely the same pressure as a ballerina on point shoes (also invented to create the illusion of height). So, when shopping for new shoes, try to go for ones with a rounded toe box or open-toe shoes, AND look for a narrower heel that fits snugly (but not tight) to lessen the slide of your foot into the shoe box.

3. Go up a shoe size: At the very least, go up a size to give your toes have a bit more room. (You can scrape off the size stamp when you get home.) In a properly fitted shoe, the shoe box should be slightly wider than the front part of your feet – and you should be able to move your toes. Also, a little extra room is important so you can add your own extra padding, thus taking some pressure off your feet.

4. Alternate shoes: It’s not good for men or women to wear the same pair of shoes every day. Switch up. And try adapting the New York City-girl routine of wearing running shoes outside, then switching to heels in the office. Not only is this safer than walking the streets in stilettos, it protects and preserves your expensive designer shoes.

5. Invest in at least one pair of “good” shoes: You found the money in your budget for those Jimmy C’s, now find it for the shoes that will help neutralize the damage. You want a round shoe box, strong arch support, a smaller one- or two-inch heel, and plenty of padding bottom and sides. Wear these for “non-event” occasions, like errand-running or shopping.
Also, don’t go completely flat! Flip flops or the very flat ballet shoes may not have the height, but they also don’t have the padding or the arch support that your already-abused feet long for. Go with a structure shoe, a one- to two-inch heel and plenty of padding.

If your foot pain continues, make an appointment with SSPC. Bring your high heels and let us evaluate and check the fit. Research has shown that the most effective way to reduce the negative effects of high heels is to use a cushioned orthotic that can transfer some of the pressure off your toes. We are experts on orthotics and have a range of possibilities that can reduce back and leg pain while improving your body alignment and balance.

It’s just what Carrie would do!

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