What Women Do to their Feet in the Name of Fashion

high heel dangers, women's feet, women's health, fashion, health and beauty
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Did you know that women are 4 times more likely to have foot problems than men? The most common cause – choice of footwear. What are you doing to your feet when you wear high heels and shoes that are too small?

First, here is some basic foot anatomy. There are 52 bones in the feet. These make up one quarter of all the bones in your body. When these bones are out of alignment, so is the rest of your body. In addition to bones, there are also 33 joints and more than 100 tendons, muscles and ligaments in each foot. That is a lot of anatomy in one small area!

Seventy-five percent of Americans will experience foot problems at one time or another in their lives. Some of these include fungal foot infections (athlete’s foot), ingrown toenails, corns or calluses, bunions, and foot injuries (such as sprained ankles and broken toes). If you are diabetic, you are at risk for nerve damage in the limbs, including the feet. Poor circulation to the feet because of uncontrolled blood sugar is the number one reason for lower limb amputation.

Women are four times more likely than men to have foot problems. For the most part, this is due to footwear, including the wearing of high heels. A 2 ½ inch heel can increase the load on the forefoot by 75%. Women who habitually wear high heels are at risk for permanent physiological damage to the knees, hips, back and tendons. Damage can be seen in women as young as 25 years old!

In addition to the unnatural angle of the foot, damage can occur from walking differently in high heels than in flat shoes. Heel wearers move with shorter, more forceful strides with feet in a flexed, toes-pointed position. As a result, the fibers in the calf muscles are shortened and put greater mechanical strain on the legs.

Women are also much more likely to be wearing the wrong shoe size (too small). A report published in the Journal of Foot and Ankle Surgery found that about 35% of the population underestimates their shoe size by at least a half a size.

(By the way, the average shoe size in the US for women is 8.5; men is 10.5)

The American Podiatry Medical Association suggests that people buy shoes in the afternoon. Since your foot tends to swell a little during the day, it is best to fit the shoes to the slightly larger size. Also, keep in mind that people often have one foot larger than the other, so fit the shoe to the larger foot.

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Women, if you do choose heels, follow this advice from Dr. Jacqueline Sutera, a doctor of podiatric medicine and surgery in NY and NJ:

1. Alternate Heights: If your tendon doesn't get acclimated to the same height every day, it won't shorten to a specific height.

2. Stretch: Every day you wear heels, sit in a chair and use a yoga band or twisted sheet slung around your foot. Pull the band towards you as you stretch your toes forward.

3. Use Commuter Shoes: Especially city commuters walk a great deal on their routes to work. Use a supportive flat shoe on the unforgiving concrete of the sidewalk and save those four-inch show-stoppers for the absorbent carpets and cork floors of the office.

4. Choose A Wedge: Any heel that offers more surface area is putting less stress on the ball of the foot, so go with a chunky heel, wedge or even a platform.

5. Add Orthotics: Even an over-the-counter shoe insole can make a tottering heel more stable -- and that can help its owner walk better.

Reference:
Cronin NJ, Barrett RS, Carty CP. Long-term use of high-heeled shoes alters the neuromechanics of human walking. J Appl Physiol. 2012 Mar;112(6):1054-8. doi: 10.1152/japplphysiol.01402.2011. Epub 2012 Jan 12.

Additional Resources:
Jenson Foot and Ankle Specialists (Dr. David Jenson)
Tanglewood Foot Specialists (Dr. Andrew Schneider)

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