Summer shoe styles may lead to future foot problems

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    By Alison Snyder

    Women are gravitating towards the newest, most popular shoe styles of the season – wedge heels, espadrilles, stilettos and pointy toes to name a few – eager to wear the latest trends that flatter their feminine figures.

    But are they aware of the many potential damages that can result from wearing the latest styles?

    A recent survey conducted by the American Podiatric Medical Association found that 15 percent of people suffer from pain in the ball of the foot, 14 percent have heel pain and 12 percent experience pain while simply wearing their shoes.

    “A lot of times, women”s shoes are just too narrow, and they cramp the foot,” podiatrist Scott Humphreys said. “This can lead to foot problems such as neuroma,” which is essentially a pinched nerve. Narrow shoes, especially high heels, cramp the toes, possibly causing bunions or hammertoes, which are deformities of the foot. It also places the body weight on to the ball of the foot.

    This pressure on the ball of the foot changes the biomechanics of the foot, causing injury such as joint injuries, calluses or pinched nerves. Although this can happen to anyone, for the most part, people develop these foot conditions because they are genetically predisposed to them, said James Hoyal, a podiatrist practicing in Provo.

    He said to be aware of foot problems that family members have.

    “If you see [foot] problems in your family, make sure you know what is going on with your own feet as well,” he said. “If you have a predisposition [to foot problems] and start wearing high heels, you”re going to make that worse.”

    But women without a genetic tendency are not immune from foot problems.

    “If your heel is higher than the ball of your foot by more than two or two and a half inches, you”re asking for problems,” Hoyal said.

    Other podiatrists agree.

    “A true high heel – anything over an inch – is too much,” podiatrist Kelly Gomez said. “Pressure from three- and four-inch stilettos is especially bad because it is extreme.” He agreed high heels accelerate the development of foot problems that women have a genetic weakness for, including arch pain, heel pain, or even the development of arthritis.

    “High heels are made for style, not for comfort,” said Perry Hall, a physician”s assistant for a foot and ankle orthopedic surgeon. “You”re forcing the foot into a tight, confined space instead of its natural position. I think people only become more aware of comfort versus style when they have a foot problem.”

    He said because high heels don”t accommodate the natural shape of the foot, they have the potential to cause problems.

    The best way to avoid foot problems caused by high heels is simply not wearing them. Another suggestion is to reduce the time spent wearing the high-heeled shoe.

    “High heels are not something that you can wear all day,” said Lee Barney, the area sales manager for shoes at the Dillards in Provo Towne Center. “A high heel is made for a dressy occasion. If you want to look nice and you”re not going to do a lot of walking, they”re nice.”

    He stressed the importance of wearing comfortable shoes with a lot of support, keeping the Achilles tendon and the ball of the foot in alignment.

    “It”s almost as if you were to stand in the sand,” Barney said. “It molds to your foot so you”re feeling support throughout your foot, and your weight is distributed. Sand starts feeling cushy, but as soon as you stand on it, it compacts, distributing weight evenly. There is no extra pressure between the ball, heel or arch of foot.”

    It”s important to keep the long-term health of the feet in mind when considering the purchase of that new pair of wedge heels.

    “Feet are the most important part of body,” Barney said. “In the long run, if you”ll fit yourself with room for your toes to wiggle, you”ll have longer foot health.”

    Ultimately, it”s up to each woman to decide for herself.

    “When you wear high heels, you”re taking a chance [for foot problems], just like you”re taking a chance to smoke,” Barney said.

    Yet not all doctors buy into the shoe controversy. Podiatrist Gary Morley disagrees, in some respects, with many other doctors on the effects of high-heeled shoes on foot health.

    “Most foot problems come from inherited characteristics the person is born with,” Morley said. “Shoes don”t cause it – they just help [women] recognize problems they didn”t know they already had. Shoes get more credit and blame than they deserve – they don”t necessarily fix or cause things.”

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