High heels can lead to more than sore feet

Anjali Shrestha

Walking into the shoe section of Bloomingdale’s and spying racks of new high heels, sophomore Charlotte Coover selects a black satin pair of pumps with a small bow at the toe and a 3-inch heel. They feel comfortable for the few minutes when she tries them on, but weeks later after returning from a dance, the heels now in hand, the shoes have left her feet swollen and sore.

“When I tried them on they were easy to walk on and I imagined myself keeping them on for the entire dance,” said Coover. “After 20 minutes my feet were in pain and I went barefoot for the rest of the night.”

High heels may be considered elegant and sophisticated, but they are one of the leading causes for painful and irreversible bone and foot problems.

“When you walk up on your toes it shortens the muscles of the calf,” said physical therapist Patricia Quinn. “It creates postules problems and throws off your balance and causes back-pain because you shift your weight to accommodate standing on your toes. It also increases the arch in your back.”

Television shows such as Sex and the City women show wearing high heels to the pool, to work, in the rain and even while nine-months pregnant. In popular sitcoms like Gossip Girl, characters wear stilettos opposed to ballet flats to school daily. When celebrities are interviewed for style magazines geared towards teens they incessantly say high heels are their favorite way to complete an outfit.

It is easy for women to forget warnings from doctors, parents and studies showing high heels’ harmful effects on the body when ads on TV and in magazines endorse pumps.

“Although my mom now has foot problems from heels and unsupportive shoes, I still wear heels all the time because they not only complete my outfit but they also make me taller and more confident,” said sophomore Elena Dudum, who is just over 5-feet tall. “In the long run, I know about the harmful effects, but right now I am not thinking about that.”

High heels adversely affect feet, ankles and knees. The higher the heel of a shoe, the pressure on knee joints increases. High heels can cause immediate harm such as bone breaks and sprains. The most dangerous consequences are problems such as osteoarthritis, which develops after years of wearing heels and is diagnosed decades after as the bones start to grind together.

“[When wearing high heels] you are putting your body in a biomechanically abnormal position,” said Quinn. “Arthritis, bunions, hammer toes, metatarsalgia, joint problems, Morton’s neuroma and plantar fasciitis are problems resulting from heels.”

Osteoarthritis is the breaking of articular cartilage in the joints. Cartilage is a rubbery material that covers the end of the bone and cushions the bones from grinding together. Once the cartilage has been broken down there is no way to heal and the only alternative is a knee replacement.

Metatarsalgia is pain in the ball of the foot caused by the breakdown of metatarsalgia pad and standing constantly on the tips of toes. High heels redistribute body weight, concentrating pressure on the joints of the foot specifically the metatarsal.

“Walking on your toes forces the joint in your foot to plantar flex and can also cause hammer toes,” said Quinn.

High heels can also cause bunions, bone growth at the joint of the big toe. Often occurring from the pressure of tight-fitting shoes this can force the toe to curve the opposite direction. Mortons neuroma, another condition that creates tissue around the third and fourth toes to thicken, can cause numbness and discomfort.

“On occasions I have seen women who cannot wear flat shoes because they have been wearing high heels all their life. They cannot get their feet flat again,” said Quinn. “You are changing the biomechanics basically which changes things all the way up the chain.”

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