Sensible shoes

October 27, 2003|by ANDREA ROWLAND

There's nothing sexy about hammertoes.

Those stylish high-heeled shoes that make legs look longer and women stand taller have been linked to hammertoes, bunions and other painful foot problems. And high heels with pointy toes might look chic, but wearing them too much can make feet sick, experts say.

"The national obsession with beauty has created a demand for shoes that make the foot seem smaller, daintier and narrower. Narrow, pointy-toed shoes and high-heeled shoes that make the foot look smaller by placing it in a more vertical position are the height of fashion," according to the American Orthopaedic Foot & Ankle Society at on the Web.

The higher the heel, the greater the pressure on the front of the foot. And if you're thinking only of Manola Blahnik - those super-sexy, pointy-toed numbers with high-high stiletto heels favored by celebrities - think again. Even shoes with heels little more than 2 inches high can constrict, cramp and stress the foot, doctors say.


Hagerstown podiatrist Martin Lesnak of Podiatry Associates has treated patients for bunions, hammertoes, neuroma, nail trauma and bone pain in the ball of the foot - problems caused or exacerbated by wearing high heels, shoes with narrow toes or shoes that don't fit properly, he says.

The combination of too-high heels and ill-fitting shoes results in foot surgeries and lost work time that adds up to more than $3.5 billion a year in the United States, the American Orthopaedic Foot & Ankle Society states. And women have about four times as many foot problems as men, primarily due to lifelong patterns of wearing high heels, according to the Foot Health Foundation of America on the Web at

A 2001 study conducted by the American Orthopaedic Foot & Ankle Society found that:

  • Nine out of 10 women are wearing shoes that are too small for their feet.

  • Eight out of 10 women say their shoes are painful.

  • More than 7 out of 10 women have developed a bunion, hammertoe or other painful foot deformity.

  • Women are nine times more likely than men to develop a foot problem because of improperly fitting shoes.

  • Nine out of 10 women's foot deformities can be attributed to tight shoes.

Nearly 60 percent of 1,724 respondents to the online survey wore uncomfortable shoes at least one hour per day, and 77 percent of those women did so for work or to look stylish, according to findings posted on the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons Web site at

Calluses and heel pain were the most common reported problems, the survey found. Some other foot problems associated with uncomfortable shoes are corns, Morton's neuroma, heel spurs and ingrown toenails, according to the Foot Health Foundation of America.

Prevention is key to avoiding pain - and perhaps surgery.

Never force your foot into a shoe that doesn't fit. Choose shoes that conform to the shape of your feet. Go for shoes with wide insteps, broad toes and soft soles. Avoid shoes that are tight or sharply pointed, and those with heels higher than 2 1/4 inches, podiatrists say.

"If you don't have to wear heels, don't," Lesnak says. "Stick with a shoe with a 1-inch heel or less."

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