Are you paying a high price for wearing high heels?
If you’re like most women, you feel like a swan the first few hours in heels—and a duck with sore feet after that.
New research shows it goes beyond just soreness. U.S. emergency rooms saw 123,355 injuries related to wearing high heels from 2002 to 2012, according to a study at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. And the number of injuries nearly doubled during that period.
Most of those going to the ER were women in their 20s and 30s, and foot and ankle sprains or strains were their most common problem. In all, foot and ankle injuries accounted for just over 80 percent of the accidents reported. But almost 20 percent involved the head and neck, shoulder, trunk or knee—and of these, about one in five included a broken bone.
“There is a price to pay for looking good,” said James T. Chandler, M.D., who specializes in orthopaedic surgery and foot and ankle surgery at Carilion Clinic. “The shape of the front of a high-heeled shoe forces the foot into that shape, crowding the toes and contributing to the development of hammertoes and bunions."
"The elevation of the heel also forces the foot into a posture that markedly overloads the front of the foot, causing pain in the ball of the foot and possible stress fractures,” said Dr. Chandler. “It puts the ankle in a position where it is much more likely to be sprained with a missed step."
Dr. Chandler adds that these changes don't occur overnight. "With repetitive wearing of shoes with a narrow toe box and a high heel, permanent changes in the foot can occur, eventually necessitating surgical reconstruction,” explained Dr. Chandler.
So what’s the lowdown on high heels?
“You don't have to give up looking good or wear frumpy shoes to keep your feet healthy,” noted Dr. Chandler. “Sensible advice would involve calling high-heeled shoes your ‘three-hour shoes’—long enough to be worn to a party, a nice dinner out, or church—but not all day long.
"If you are standing and walking all day otherwise, keeping the heel to an inch and a half or less, with a more rounded toe box, will keep your feet happy longer," he added. "You can save your high heels for nice occasions!”
After all, how happy can you be with sore feet?