I realize that people love flashy, high-fashion shoes but as a podiatrist with Westchester Health, I see firsthand the damage they can cause to feet and ankles. As well as exacerbating toe deformities, calluses, corns, bone spurs and other problems, wearing the wrong or too-high shoes puts tendons, joints and entire muscle groups at risk of serious injury.
The main cause of far-reaching joint and tissue damage are high heels. They drastically alter the wearer’s posture, displace the foot and ankle bones, strain the knee joints and tighten the surrounding tendons. This can lead to osteoarthritis, a painful and sometimes debilitating joint condition.
To promote healthy feet and ankles, I offer the following guide to problem shoes to avoid, as well as ways to minimize your risk of injury.
8 painful foot problems caused by shoes
Bone bump (from high heels)
The rigid backs and straps of high heels can irritate the heel, causing a boney enlargement know as Haglund’s deformity or “pump bump.” This can lead to blisters, swelling, bursitis, even pain in the Achilles tendon. Ice, orthotics and heel pads may provide pain relief but the best solution is a change of shoe.
Unnatural foot position (from high heels)
As well as causing the “pump bump,” sky-high heels force the feet into an unnatural position that puts undue stress on the ball of the foot. In this joint, the long metatarsal bones join the small pea-shaped sesamoid bones as well as the toe bones (phalanges). Too much pressure can inflame these bones and/or the nerves that surround them. Chronic stress to the foot bones can even lead to hairline fractures. Switching to lower heels will help avoid problems with the metatarsal bones. The lower the heel (I recommend no more than 2 inches), the more natural the foot position. If you must wear high heels, wear them in moderation.
Ankle sprains (from high heels)
High heels also increase the risk of an ankle sprain. The most common is a lateral sprain which happens when you suddenly roll onto the outside of your foot, stretching the ankle ligaments beyond their normal length. A severe sprain may even tear these ligaments. The risk of developing osteoarthritis also increases with a severe sprain or fracture of the ankle. Over time, ligament and nerve damage in the ankle leads to complications in the legs and back. A sprained ankle should be immobilized immediately and may need physical therapy to heal properly.
Although all high heels can cause problems, the ultra-narrow heels of stilettos are particularly hazardous because your weight is pinpointed all on one area, causing you to wobble as if walking on stilts. This instability can make you much more likely to trip and sprain your ankle. One solution is to switch from stilettos to chunky heels which have more surface area and distribute your weight more evenly, making your feet much more stable. Although thick high heels can still put stress on the ball of your foot, they reduce your risk of tripping by minimizing unsteadiness.
Ballet flats and flip flops
On the opposite end of the spectrum from super-high heels are ballet flats and flip flops, which in terms of your feet are similar to walking on cardboard. They provide no arch support whatsoever which can lead to knee, ankle, hip and back problems. In addition, poor arch support is associated with a painful foot condition called plantar fasciitis. To prevent these problems, consider over-the-counter arch inserts, heel pads for extra cushioning, and custom orthotics to reduce pressure on sensitive areas.
They might be stylish but shoes with pointy toes squeeze the entire front of your foot together. Over time, this can cause nerve pain, bunions, blisters and hammertoes. Some women even develop bruises under their toenails from the constant pressure. Altering your footwear may be the smartest solution.
A bunion is a painful bone protrusion at the base of the big toe which can cause the toe to bend unnaturally. Bunions form when the main bone in the toe joint gets displaced which most often occurs after years of abnormal pressure and movement. Pointy-toed shoes are the most common culprit, which explains the prevalence of bunions among women.
Shoes that are the wrong size
Nine out of ten women wear shoes that are too small, resulting in calluses, blisters, bunions, corns and other foot problems. Also, the constant rubbing of a too-small shoe can irritate the joints in the foot and lead to arthritis. The solution? Buy shoes that are the right size for your feet!
How to find the best shoes for your feet
Treat your feet properly and try to avoid injuring them and they’ll serve you well, all throughout your life. You can start by following these 3 simple tips:
- Choose shoes that bend at the toe box but are not too flexible.
- Make sure there is sufficient arch support.
- Avoid stilettos and instead, choose a wide heel no more than 2 inches high.
If you are experiencing foot or heel pain, possibly from shoes
If you have mild, moderate or severe pain in your feet or heel(s), make an appointment to come see me at one of my Westchester Health offices. I’ll examine your heels, ankles and feet, evaluate your condition, and together with you, determine the best course of treatment to alleviate and hopefully, eliminate your pain.