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High Shoe Heights Increase Strain and Injuries
With this season's high heeled shoes taller than ever, women need to use extra care in selecting and wearing these fashionable dress shoes. The three-or four-inch heights, combined with the thin "stiletto" heel styles currently in vogue can lead to a variety of foot and ankle problems, according to specialists in the field.
"With higher shoes, your feet tend to slip forward," says Dr. Marlene Reid, a Fellow of the American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons. This may amplify discomfort, especially if the shoes don't fit properly in the first place. She suggests women look for shoes with padding in the forefoot area, cushioning the toes and ball of the foot. And be sure there is sufficient shoe width to maintain comfort.
"A stable heel is also important to the well-being of the foot and ankle," she says. Stability is maintained when the heel of your foot is firmly enclosed by the shoe, with the stiffest support being the best." Dr. Reid stresses that women should walk in the high heel shoes before they make a purchase. And walk on bare floors, not just the carpeted floor in the shoe display area of the store.
Common high heel-related injuries treated by Dr. Reid, a board-certified foot and ankle specialist, include sesamoiditis (inflammation and swelling), neuromas (nerve damage), metatarsalgia (pain in the ball of the foot). Less frequent but all too common high heel-related injuries include ankle sprains and even bone fractures of the foot.
Such common maladies as bunions or hammertoes are accelerated by ill-fitting or excessively high heels, says Dr. Reid. "Walking in these shoes will change your gait pattern, which can affect your legs and back. Poor shock absorption of the shoes can also contribute to back pain." Such longer term conditions as arthritis in the toe and ankle joints can be exacerbated by excessive wearing of high heels.
Fashion editors point to high heels as enhancing the appearance of your legs as your calf muscles contract and adjust to the angle of high heel shoes. Dr. Reid suggests women do some basic leg stretching exercises after wearing heels to avoid excessive tightening of these calf muscles and the Achilles tendon. Wearing high heels on a regular basis over the years can cause these muscles and tendons to permanently contract, making walking in flat shoes or even bare feet more difficult.
Dr. Reid's high heel shopping tips include:
- Purchase shoes with heels only as high as you are comfortable with. Some women can tolerate higher heels better than others.
- Women with a higher arched foot have more tolerance for a higher heel.
- Take into account the length of time you'll be wearing the shoes at a given stretch.
"You might be able to withstand four-inch heels for an hour or two," she says, "but would you want to wear those shoes all day and all night?"
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