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Planning on Wearing High Heels to the Derby?

Planning on Wearing High Heels to the Derby?

Why Your Feet Will Hurt & How to Prevent it Before a Day at the Races

High heels have a strong place in fashion. Being a female Podiatrist, I understand that many women love the lift and length, the haute and the height that high heels offer. We are willing to forego a bit of comfort and stability for the sake of fashion. But it’s our feet that end up being the fashion victims when they’re scrunched into narrow, arching stilettos or clunky pumps.

The structure of high heels and the anatomy of the human body are just not always a good fit for 5 reasons:

1. The slide: Slip a foot into a high heel and your foot is at an unnatural angle, fighting the downward pull of gravity. When your foot slides forward in a high-heeled shoe, your weight distribution changes, which causes friction between your foot and the shoe. This can lead to painful pressure, not to mention corns, calluses, and ingrown toenails. Corns are hard, thick knobs of skin that build up in response to the pressure and friction. Friction on the heels and soles of the feet can cause calluses.

2. The bend: That downward pressure caused by “the slide” can lead to “the bend.” Toes forced down into narrow, high-angled shoes day after day can begin to deform. The toes can begin to curl at the middle joint, producing the charmingly named hammertoe effect. Once a toe is bent in this way, it becomes even more susceptible to friction and pressure, corns and calluses, and, oh, fashion hurts. The joints can even become dislocated, rigid, and painful enough to sometimes call for surgery.

3. The lift: If Barbie were a real woman, she’d have a (pardon the pun) standing appointment with me. Picture Barbie’s little plastic feet, forever arched and ready for a high-heeled shoe to be placed on her foot, like an 11.5 inch-tall Cinderella. Her Achilles tendon would be contracted beyond repair, and she’d likely suffer joint pain in the ball of her foot. You see, your body weight should equally distribute across the whole plain of your foot. What high-heeled shoes do is shift a lot of the body’s weight onto the ball of the foot and keep the heels and Achilles tendons from properly functioning.

4. The shift: All sorts of forces need to be in balance for the joints and tendons of your feet to work properly. Ratchet your feet up an inch or more from their natural arches, and you’re bound to shift some of these forces off balance. When the big toe joint becomes unbalanced, for instance, a bunion can be the unwelcome result (or, in the case of the little toe, a bunionette, and, yes, that’s a real word!). A bunion can lead to a bump on the base of the toe, swelling, and pain around the joint of the toe, and a thickening of the skin in the area. The affected toe swells in size and crowds against the other toes, pushing them out of whack and more or less changing the whole profile of the foot.
* Here is an example of bunions, bunionette’s and hammertoe…lucky gal

bunionette’s and hammertoe

* High heels can push a woman’s posture completely out of whack, too. A woman standing in heels may lean back to counteract the headlong tilt created by the arch of high heels. This swayed back can cause the calf and hamstring muscles to shorten and cause all sorts of back pain, imbalances, and even knee osteoarthritis.

5. The crack: Clad in high heels, the forefoot bears the brunt of all the walking and stair-climbing and running to make the next train. All this pressure and the feet may become prone to stress fractures, actual tiny cracks in the bones that can cause pain, swelling, and tenderness. All these take time, icing, and rest to heal.

What Can We Do to Prevent This?

For starters, you’ll get a more comfortable fit if you go shoe shopping at the end of the day, when your feet are slightly swollen. Don’t forget, the taller and skinnier a heel gets, the more potentially harmful the shoe becomes.

When you go shoe shopping, you should focus on fit. This can be difficult because shoe sizes can vary greatly depending on the style of the high heel and depending on the manufacturer. So, start with the shoe sizers in the stores, and take into account the width of the shoe as compared to your foot, the thickness of the heel and the shape of the toe.

Surprisingly, flat shoes are not the ideal for overall foot and leg health. Wear shorter heels, 1 ½ to 2 inches, it reduces the severity of pain and stress on your body. Square-toed shoes with a roomy toe box help prevent the pinching and scrunching of the foot that can lead to lots of painful problems. Also keep in mind that partially open-toe styles put less stress on the toes.

Bring extra, more comfortable, shoes with you when you wear heels so you can change shoes if necessary. When possible, put comfort inserts and cushions in your high-heeled footwear. I frequently dispense custom-designed orthotics or inserts in my office for women to place in their high heels for added comfort and prevention of more serious deformities that could potentially require surgery.

Trying to balance your weight correctly will help reduce inflammation and pain. Adjusting your poise but maintaining a straight posture will also help. Gentle stretching will improve any pain or discomfort you may already be experiencing and will stretch the muscles so that they retain flexibility.

Try these easy stretches to avoid damage to your Achilles tendons, hamstrings, and calf muscles. Gently hold each stretch for a minimum of 30 seconds.

1. For the calf: Place one foot on the first stair or ledge; bend the toe upward, and slowly reach for the tops of the toes with both hands.

2. For the Achilles: Stand in lunge position, with both hands on a wall and both heels on the ground, the front leg bent and the back leg straight. Hold, and then switch legs.

3. For the hamstrings: Cross one foot in front of the other and bend forward at the waist until you feel the pull. Switch legs and repeat.


Try to save your highest high-fashion heels for occasions that don’t require a lot of walking or standing around for hours on end. Finally, remember that there’s no such thing as breaking in a shoe. If it doesn’t feel good at the start, it won’t get any better later.

Have fun at the races ladies, and good luck!

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