There is an old adage that says what goes up must come down. But for some women who enjoy the look and feel of wearing high-heeled shoes, the thought of coming down is unthinkable.
Medical experts say that constant high heel wear can cause serious problems for the wearer’s feet.
“Wearing high heels for a long period of time can cause your heel to adapt to the position of the shoe,” said Dr. George M. Merritt, a podiatric surgeon from Tallahassee Podiatric Associates. “The constant wear can cause hammertoe, bunions, pinched nerves in the feet and can result in hard or soft corns.”
But the negative effects of high heels do not stop there, according to research from the Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research.
The Mayo research concludes that high heels may cause joint pain in the ball of the foot and produce problems for toenails because of the constant pressure caused by the force against the front of the shoe.
Still, some women say the style and the look of high heels are worth the risk.
“I love wearing high heels because they look cute with my outfits, especially skirts,” said Sherri Boone, 21, a fourth-year business administration student from Springfield, Va. “To look good, you have to make sacrifices no matter how much it hurts.”
Merritt said the higher and pointier the heel, the more problems the shoes could cause for the foot.
“Feet are in their most comfortable position when body weight is evenly distributed,” he said. “When that weight is unevenly distributed it allows one section of your foot to bear excess pressure.”
The discomfort of high heels has caused some women to avoid wearing the potentially hazardous shoes.
“I don’t like wearing high heels because they are uncomfortable and difficult to walk in, especially on campus,” said Lauren Armwood, 20, a junior political science student from San Antonio. “I cringe when I see girls trip on campus, and I see this almost on a daily basis.”
While many women believe that wearing a higher heel is more fashionable and provides the look that men are seeking, medical experts say the mythical thoughts are misguided and that foot problems are real.
“These problems don’t go away simply by people ignoring them,” Meritt said.
Another medical myth that some women believe is that a wider heel is better. This is not the case. A wider heel can create the perception that less weight and strain is being placed on the foot, so women wear them for long periods of time because they feel more comfortable and stable.
“The fact is it’s important to switch between flats and heels. If high heels are to be worn, it’s really important that the shoes fit,” Merritt said.
Armwood agrees with Merritt. “Now I only wear high heels when I have to, like when I go to work. Other than that I prefer to wear flats.”
One company that is working on providing a high-heeled shoe that is both fashionable and comfortable is Cole Haan, a division of Nike.
Cole Haan is using the idea of Nike’s air pump. The idea is to place a pump in the heel of the shoe and under the ball of the foot, making it more shock absorbent. This mechanism is known as “zoom” and allows the devices to evenly distribute a person’s weight.
While not endorsing any particular shoe company, Merritt said he believes the day will come when women realize wearing flats is more beneficial.