The list of problems wearing high heels too often can cause is nearly two feet long:
Toe deformities such as bunions, bunionettes of the “pinky” toe and hammer toes – a deformity that causes your toe to curl downward rather than pointing upward, neuromas (pinched nerves) and ingrown toenails, metatarsalgia, which is pain and inflammation in the ball of the foot, increased risk for ankle sprains, heels provide no ankle support and painful bumps on the heel and lower back pain and sore calves.
“I tend to see patients who complain of foot and ankle pain after wearing certain types of shoes, and high heels do tend to be among the most common,” said Dr. Amber Hairford, a family medicine physician at Novant Health Mountainview Medical in King. “The force of wearing them is similar to walking on a ramp all day. The discomfort from high heels lasts even after you take the shoes off.”
When a patient comes to Dr. Stuart Saunders, an orthopedic surgeon with Novant Health in Winston-Salem, with any of the above complaints, he already knows the likely culprit. Then again, his patients do, too.
High heels are a hard habit to break.
While Saunders hasn’t walked a mile in your stilettos, he is sympathetic. He knows that many women consider their Louboutins, Jimmy Choos (or their less expensive counterparts) indispensable. “Heels are part of our culture, and women are going to continue to wear them,” he said. “They can be statement pieces.”
He doesn’t insist patients part with all their pumps. But he does suggest limiting the time they spend in heels and opting for a lower heel when possible. “If you’re going to wear heels at work, wear good, supportive shoes to and from work,” he advises. “Then change into your heels once you’ve gotten to your office.”
Saunders, a specialist in foot and ankle issues, suggests conservative measures first. His common-sense prescription: Try silicone/gel toe spacers, Budin splints and moleskin patches that can alleviate discomfort. And limit the amount of time you spend in heels.
Despite the pain, many women are hesitant to give up heels. But that attitude may be changing. Both The New York Times and The Los Angeles Times have written recently about women opting for – of all things – comfort in footwear. Actress Kristen Stewart made headlines recently when she took off her statement stilettos on the Cannes red carpet and went barefoot – in violation of the “no-flats” policy – as she ascended the grand staircase.
“While some forefoot issues are inherited, high heels are definitely a major contributor,” Saunders said.
If surgery is needed, it’s almost always an outpatient procedure. The recovery usually involves what Saunders calls a “post-op shoe” (aka orthopedic boot) that might have to be worn for up to six weeks. “In general, I tell patients that it may take three to six months to fully recover from surgery, however sometimes recovery can take up to a year,” he said.
“Surgery is for pain relief,” Saunders said. “The cosmesis [cosmetic improvement] is a bonus that comes along with the surgery.”
But he warns patients: “If you choose to return to wearing heels, then your painful deformities are likely to recur.”
If foot pain has become part of your life, there may be a simple way to heal yourself: When everyone else goes high, you stay low.