Suffering for fashion: 5 reasons high heels hurt

High heels have a strong place in fashion. Many women love the lift and length, the haute and the height that high heels offer. They are willing to forego a bit of comfort and stability for the sake of fashion. But it's your 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 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 a podiatrist or orthopedist. 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.
    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 pains and imbalances.
  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 meeting. 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.

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