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Why Women's Shoes Can Cause Foot Pain


The shoes women choose to wear today may haunt them with lingering foot pain for years to come, according to a new study. The research findings appear in the October issue of Arthritis Care & Research and focus on women only and on one type of foot pain.

Foot pain is a very common symptom, and although much of it appears to be directly related to the shoes people wear, little research has been done on the cause or prevalence of foot pain. Different parts of the foot can be affected in different ways when wearing various types of shoes.

What type of shoes women wear that causes pain?

The current study’s authors analyzed data on 1,900 women and 1,472 men (average age, 66 years) who had participated in the Framingham study plus some new enrollees. Overall, 29 percent of the women said they experienced generalized foot pain most days of the week. The subjects were asked what type of shoes they wore now and throughout their lives. “Good” shoes were defined as athletic shoes or sneakers, poor shoes were sandals and pumps, and average shoes were rubber- or hard-soled leather shoes.

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Women who habitually wore “good” shoes were 67 percent less likely to develop pain in the region of the foot above the heel, also referred to as hindfoot pain, than those who wore “average” shoes. The hindfoot is the part that receives the most shock every time the foot strikes the ground. The authors did not note any significant difference between women who wore poor shoes and those who wore average shoes.

Other studies have revealed a relationship between the type of shoes worn and different types of foot pain or conditions. For example, a recent (2008) study published in Clinical Biomechanics found that prolonged standing in high heels may contribute to progressive hallux valgus, a condition in which the big or great toe is angled toward the other toes. This deformity may or may not also cause a bunion.

According to a study conducted by the American Podiatric Medical Association (APMA), 39 percent of women say they wear high heels every day, and 75 percent of them report having shoe-related foot pain and other symptoms, including hammer toes, calluses, corns, and plantar warts. Wearing heels greater than two inches has a negative impact on natural ambulation. Heels higher than three inches put seven times the pressure on the ball of the foot and can harm the bones. The APMA recommends women wear shoes with a cushioned heel no higher than three-quarters of an inch in height and to greatly limit the use of higher heels.

American Podiatric Medical Association
Defour AB et al. Arthritis Care & Research 2009; 61(10): 1352-58
Yu J et al. Clinical Biomechanics 2008; 23 Suppl: S31-38

This page is updated on March 23, 2013.