Health Tips brought to you by U.S. HealthWorks Medical Group. Our experienced medical experts provide information here that we hope will broaden your healthcare knowledge.
Recent research shows that injuries resulting from high heel-wearing are on the rise. The primary injuries sustained from wearing high heels include sprains and strains to the foot and ankle, according to the Journal of Foot & Ankle Surgery.
Q: What is it about high heels that causes so much discomfort?
A: There are several reasons why high heels can be uncomfortable, and while they may not cause all foot pain, they can certainly aggravate painful conditions. For example, bunions aren’t created by high heels, but they certainly can be worsened with their use. A bunion is a painful protrusion of the bones at the base of the first toe. They are usually diagnosed clinically or with x-rays of the foot by a healthcare provider. Someone who has bunions may find that high heels are very uncomfortable at the outside edge of the big toe or “ball” of the foot.
As we age, the amount of fat in the pads of our feet decreases. Shoes with hard soles and little cushion can become more painful to wear as time goes by because our natural shock absorbers lose their spring. Shoes that were comfortable a decade earlier may cause discomfort in the foot with shorter wear times.
Anyone with balance difficulties or existing knee and ankle injuries should use caution with the height of their heel and note the amount of contact surface the shoe has with the ground. A shoe with a very thin, spiked heel will require more caution than a shoe with a wedge base.
Q: What type of injuries or ailments can you get from wearing high heels?
A: High heels disrupt the natural motion of the foot and ankle to give the appearance of a longer leg and increased height. They shorten the Achilles tendon – a large tendon that acts as a “rope” in the back of the ankle, place additional pressure on the toes and increase impact on the ball of the foot.
These demands can worsen bunion pain, cause corns and calluses (a thickening of the skin), and cause the Achilles tendon to contract. Shoes with very little area of contact with the ground also require a bit of balance and strength in the ankle, increasing the potential for ankle strains and falls. Some research even supports evidence for nerve and muscle damage with long-term, long-duration use of high heels – not just involving the foot and ankle, but the back and knees as well!
Q: Is “high heel pain” really all that serious? How much caution needs to be taken?
A: The best advice is to listen to what your body is telling you! If the toe box hurts your toes, try a shoe with a little less point to the toe. If you have pain in the back of your ankle, try doing Achilles stretches, or opt for a lower heel. If the ball of your foot aches after being in the shoe for a few hours, try soft inserts to help cushion your steps. Painful thickening of the skin on the toes can be treated with exfoliation and adhesive cushions, but the best treatment is to find footwear that doesn’t rub against or compress the toes. Always try shoes on prior to wearing them to be sure that they fit comfortably. Use athletic shoes or flats as much as possible to help maintain muscle balance in the lower leg.
Q: How do you prevent and treat foot or ankle injuries that happen from wearing high heels?
A: There are several strategies to limit injuries from high heels. Get the best-fitting shoe you can find, minimizing the gap between the back of the heel and the shoe when you stand up. Look for shoes that have cushioning in the sole. Pay attention to the angle of the heel, as shoes that maintain a flatter profile through placing a platform at the toe can provide more comfort while maintaining height.
Thicker heels provide better stability. Stretching the foot/ankle periodically, wearing a lower heel and trying cushioned inserts can help prevent pain or injury. Women with corns and hammertoes (a toe that is bent permanently downward, typically as a result of pressure from footwear) often benefit from choosing open-toed shoes. Adhesive cushions can temporarily relieve callous and corn discomfort.
Mild, non-traumatic swelling can be treated with 15 minutes of ice, applied with a barrier between the ice and the skin and elevation of the foot to waist level. If the pain persists, a sudden injury such as a fall occurs, or if there is bruising and swelling, it is a good idea to get checked out by a medical provider. Your physician or your local U.S. HealthWorks office is always a good place to start!
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