High heels are a staple of femininity, and many women consider learning to walk in heels the next step after learning to crawl.
Heels are a great fashion accessory for women, but they can come at a cost – and not just the cost paid at the register. Heels can be sexy and fun, but wearing them can be painful.
Then why do women keep buying them?
Simply put, high heels are fun, says Dr. Karla Stipati, a podiatrist at St. Charles Foot and Ankle Center. “Women dress to impress themselves, their friends their coworkers,” she says. “They’ll wear a shoe even if it’s not comfortable in order to carry off a certain look.”
Dr. Richard Leitzen, a podiatrist at Northwest Podiatry Center Ltd. in South Elgin and Aurora, says high heels create the aesthetic illusion of longer, more slender legs. Heels also add height and give the appearance of more well-defined calf muscles.
“High-heeled shoes were originally worn by both men and women as a fashion statement, and they have been used for this purpose for several hundred years,” Leitzen says. “[They] instill a sense of confidence and attractiveness in the wearer.”
Longer, more slender legs and the appearance of more well-defined calves? Who doesn’t want that? Unfortunately, many women find themselves wrapped up in a love/hate relationship with their heels. And rightfully so.
Leitzen says high heels aren’t good for the feet and are known to cause many foot problems.
“High heels place the foot in an unnatural functional position,” he says. “They place excessive pressure on the balls of the feet and can exacerbate painful foot deformities such as bunions, bunionettes and hammertoes.”
Wearing high heels can also result in the formation of neuromas, plantar fasciitis, capsulitis and Haglund’s deformity, or “pump bump,” Stipati adds.
Leitzen says the healthiest way to wear heels is to not wear them. But he realizes in today’s “beauty before comfort” world, that’s not a practical solution – nor is it one that likely will be followed.
“If one simply cannot resist wearing those beautiful new Manolo Blahniks, try to stick with the lower heel height, limit the time wearing them, baby your feet afterwards and, if that doesn’t work, pay a visit to your podiatrist,” he says.
Protect Your Feet Leitzen says there are many ways high-heel lovers can protect their feet while wearing heels.
One way is to add cushions and pads to their shoes. Many silicon pads are available over-the-counter and can be utilized under the ball of the foot and surrounding the heel to provide cushioning and help prevent callus or blister formation, he says.
However, most are of limited use if the shoes are to be worn for long periods of time.
Leitzen often tells his patients, “If you can squeeze the pad flat between your two fingers, what do you think your whole body weight does to it?”
He says the most important thing to consider when buying shoes is to get the correct shoe size, particularly if foot deformities are already present.
“High heels should fit snugly, though if they are over-tight, they can cause blister formation and calluses,” Leitzen says. “When choosing an appropriately-sized shoe, women should not fixate on numbers. Just because she may be a size 8 in her Nikes does not mean she will be a size 8 in her Jimmy Choos.”
Stipati suggests women go shoe shopping toward the end of the day because their feet will be swollen from the day and they won’t risk getting a pair of heels that end up being too small.
Leitzen says another important factor in shoe selection is heel height.
“The higher the heel, the more destabilized the foot and ankle become, leading to a higher potential for injury, particularly if the wearer is not used to that height,” he says.
If an excessively high heel must be worn, Leitzen suggests the wearer practice walking in them before wearing them out. He says an event that will require long periods of weight-bearing without rest may become quite painful if the high-heel wearer is not used to this treatment. He recommends changing into another pair of more comfortable shoes.
Find foot relief What if the damage is already done and a night of dancing in heels makes a lady feel like she’s walking over hot coals the next day?
Leitzen and Stipati suggest taking a few minutes to stretch to find relief.
Leitzen says gentle stretching of the calf and Achilles tendon can relieve some of the tightness and increased pressure on the ball of the foot once the heels have been removed.
Other ways to provide some at-home relief include:
• Ice feet — Any uncomfortable areas can be iced for 10 to 15 minutes, two to three times daily.• Medicine — Stipati suggests taking an over-the-counter oral anti-inflammatory medication such as Advil or Aleve to reduce inflammation caused by prolonged use.• Soak feet — Soaks in warm water with Epsom salts have been shown to provide relief and speed healing.• Moisturize — Moisturizer should be utilized twice daily on both feet with particular focus on any calluses that have begun to develop. Moisturizer can help soften the calluses, and a pumice stone may be used to keep them from becoming excessively thick.• Massage — Deep-tissue massage may be uncomfortable, but can increase blood flow as well as reduce edema to tender feet and ankles.
While there are numerous ways to diminish high heels hurt, Stipati’s best advice to all high-heel lovers is this: Listen to your body and know your limitations.
“You may succeed in carrying off a certain look, but if you want to enjoy yourself at a special event or be productive at work, you need to wear a pair of comfortable shoes,” she says. kc