Women wear high heels on a regular basis to emphasize feminity and beauty. High heels may look great as it gives the appearance of increased length in the legs and overall height. Unfortunately, high heels can pose serious long-term health problems that go far beyond the temporary pain felt after wearing them. “Any time you wear shoes that restrict the natural shape of your foot, you’re at risk for experiencing pain” (American Osteopathic Association, 2014).
What damage is being done?
Prolonged wearing of high heeled shoes has a variety of negative health effects in the muscles, bones, posture, and feet. Heels over two inches tall forces the body to shift its weight on the balls and toes of the feet, this changes the regular “S” curve of the spine and arches to compensate for the change of weight placement (American Osteopathic Association, 2014). This throws off the body’s natural alignment and therefore creates poor posture and increased stress on the back, knees, and hips (American Osteopathic Association, 2014).
High heels can create many problem areas for the feet themselves. Bunions are a common side-effect; they are a bony growth on the side of the big toe caused by the tight-fitting shoes that angle the big toe towards the others creating the painful growth.
Metatarsalgia is another common affect in wearing high heeled shoes. Metatarsalgia is a pain in the metatarsal area of the foot, or better known as the ball. Metatarsalgia can be caused by wearing high heel shoes because they push the body weight onto the toe/metatarsal area of the foot. Furthermore, high heeled shoes tend to be tight fitting around the toes which also contributes to this irritability on the metatarsal area (Paddock, 2010). In-grown toenails can also occur more frequently in high heel wearers because of the tight fitting shoe around the toes, causing them to be pushed together.
High heels not only do damage to the feet themselves, but also create problems on the legs, knees, joints, and back. The knee joint suffers increased pressure from high heels as the shoe alters the regular posture. The calf muscle is particularly affected by high heel shoes. The calf muscle can shorten and tighten as it tries to adjust to the high heels. The Achilles tendon (the tendon that connects the calf muscle to the heel) can also stiffen and shorten, quite possibly leading to Achilles tendonitis causing inflammation in the heel and calf area (Huffington Post, 2014). High heels can be quite dangerous for the ankles because of the increased risk of sprain or fractures due to falls. The heel puts an increased pressure on the ankle as the body weight is not balanced like it would be in flat shoes, increasing the chance of a slip or fall.
There are many other conditions that can arise from prolonged use of high heel shoes, it is very important that safety measures are taken to avoid or reduce the symptoms of these conditions. For example, stretching out the foot and calf muscles can help loosen and relax the muscles. Soaking the feet in warm water can also help relax the muscles and release tension. Limiting the wearing of high heels is the best option to reduce and avoid symptoms. If you must wear them, try and wear them on a day that requires less walking, or lessen the time of wearing them during the day (i.e. bring flat shoes).
Custom made orthotics
“Your feet are, quite literally, your base of support. If your feet aren’t happy, nothing above them will be” (American Osteopathic Association, 2014). The use of orthotic insoles for alleviating painful symptoms and returning proper adjustment to the feet and body is very important to us at the North York Madison Clinic. Custom made orthotics can help better adjust the body and feet and remove the tension caused in some of these conditions. Custom-made orthotics would provide a more long-term solution to the damage done by high heels. Custom made orthotics are designed to align the foot and the ankle into a position that is anatomically efficient, meaning they correct your specific foot imbalance, and in doing so, stress and strain on your body is significantly reduced. Here at the Madison Clinic North York, Dr. Rodney will perform a gait scan (which is a computerized examination of the way you walk and stand) and if necessary (as required by some insurance plans) a casting of your foot as well. Your custom made orthotic insole is designed to your foot imprint and therefore will fit in most regular shoes that have a removable insole. For more information on the custom made orthotics that we provide, please visit www.theorthoticgroup.com.
Please check the requirements and stipulations of your insurance plan prior to your custom made orthotics assessment. Please note that it is likely that your insurance company will require a prescription for custom made orthotics from your Medical Doctor or from a Chiropodist or Podiatrist. The Madison Clinic North York has a Chiropodist available by appointment to do an assessment and provide you with the necessary prescription. Chiropody is covered by most insurance plans.