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Shoe Sense

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Rack of fancy high hills shoes

Like many women, I have a love hate relationship with my shoe collection.  I love the beauty of high heel shoes, the trendy look of wedges, and the freedom of flip-flops.  However, I hate how my feet feel after even a half hour of wearing any of the aforementioned.  As a “mature” woman, I mainly wear sensible shoes with low heels, good arch support, and roomy toe areas.  The high heels still come out but only for special occasions.  The pain and discomfort are simply not worth it.  Furthermore, the long-term foot health issues are definitely not worth it.  Now that summer is here, we are all wearing a variety of shoes from flip-flops at the lake to stilettos at weddings and parties.  Learning the worst offenders and greatest champions in the shoe world is important for preventing injury and chronic foot and joint issues.  Poor footwear can cause everything from nerve damage and hammertoes to bunions and calluses.

Worst Offenders

Stilettos.  The word stiletto is Italian for a knife or dagger with a long slender blade and needle-like point.  Therefore, we are walking in something primarily intended as a stabbing weapon!  Walking on long, slender heels causes problems.  NY podiatrist, Hillary Brenner, says, "The weight is pinpointed on one area…that makes you wobble like you're walking on stilts." The result is that you are more likely to trip and sprain your ankle. 

Ballet flats.  While you might not trip in ballet flats, you are still at risk for injury.  Brenner compares these dainty shoes to walking on cardboard.   There is no arch support and as a result, the feet do not function properly.  This can lead to knee, hip, and back problems as well as a painful foot condition called plantar fasciitis.

Flip-flops.  Andrew Shapiro, DPM, a spokesperson for the American Podiatric Medical Association says, “Women are wearing flip-flops as everyday shoes.  They are meant for the beach and the pool, not for everyday walking.  They don’t give you any arch support.”  Shapiro goes on to explain that people run, jump, and play in flip-flops.  Because you are essentially barefoot, the feet are then very prone to scrapes, cuts, bruising, broken toes, and strained ankles.  In addition, due to lack of support, chronic problems such as tendonitis and plantar fasciitis are common among regular wearers. 

Pointy-toed Pumps.  If you look at the shape of your foot and then the shape of a pointy-toed shoe, it is not hard to imagine why this causes problems.  These beauties cause metatarsalgia – an acute pain in the ball of the foot that can become chronic.  Furthermore, hammertoes and an inflammation of the nerve between the toes called neuroma can occur.  Neuroma commonly occurs between the third and fourth toes (but can happen between any of them).  The pinched, inflamed nerve causes pain and burning.  Typical treatments for this condition include injections, physical therapy, or even surgery. Shoe Champions

The obvious shoe champions are well-designed, well-fitted athletic shoes.  If work requires something a bit dressier, Shapiro recommends either a dressy flat with good arch support and well-fitted heel or a pump with no more than a 1-1.5 inch heel.  No matter the shoe, you want arch support, a low heel, a wider toe box, and preferably a lace or buckle closure to ensure good fit and support. Harvard Health offers the following advice for shoe shopping:

  • Wait until the afternoon to shop for shoes — your feet naturally expand with use during the day and may swell in hot weather.
  • Wear the same type of socks that you intend to wear with the shoes.
  • Have the salesperson measure both of your feet — and get measured every time you buy new shoes. If one foot is larger or wider than the other, buy a size that fits the larger foot.
  • Stand in the shoes. Make sure you have at least a quarter- to a half-inch of space between your longest toe and the end of the shoe.
  • Walk around in the shoes to determine how they feel. Is there enough room at the balls of the feet? Do the heels fit snugly, or do they pinch or slip off? Don't rationalize that the shoes just need to be "broken in" or that they'll stretch with time. Find shoes that fit from the start.
  • Trust your own comfort level rather than a shoe's size or description. Sizes vary from one manufacturer to another. And no matter how comfortable an advertisement claims those shoes are, you're the real judge.
  • Feel the inside of the shoes to see if they have any tags, seams, or other material that might irritate your feet or cause blisters.
  • Turn the shoes over and examine the soles. Are they sturdy enough to provide protection from sharp objects? Do they provide any cushioning? Also, take the sole test as you walk around the shoe store: do the soles cushion against impact? Try to walk on hard surfaces as well as carpet to see how the shoes feel.

Lorraine Wichtowski is a community health educator at UR Medicine Noyes Health in Dansville.  If you have article suggestions or questions, contact Lorraine at or 585-335-4327. 

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