Heels are causing you more problems than the occasional blister.

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Stilettos, pumps, platforms. When it comes to shoes, heels signify a certain attitude, style, sophistication and sex appeal. The perfect pair is often the metaphorical cherry on top of a perfect outfit. For decades, women have forked over hundreds of dollars on shoes that although look good, essentially damage our feet. I agree that nothing looks more stunning than a pair of heels, but at the expense of our health, is it worth it?

HOW HEELS WORK

So what makes heels so unhealthy? The answer is a no-brainer for Dr. Hartley Miltchin, DPM, a registered podiatrist from Accent on Feet: “Humans were meant to walk flat on their two feet. Anything that changes this dynamic can create chaos, due to an instability in foot function and misalignment of the structures above. When we walk flat, 50 per cent of our body weight rests on our heel and the other 50 per cent rests on the ball of the foot.” But when wearing heels, even as low as two inches, a paradigm shift of our body weight occurs. Ten per cent of our body weight transfers to our heels, while the remaining majority of our weight, 90 per cent, is left teetering on the ball of the foot. Wearing heels becomes equivalent to standing on your tippy toes!

A second factor of discomfort with heels: the cramped toe box of the shoe, which is where the five toes are placed. Most toe boxes come to a narrow point, squishing your foot for hours into an uncomfortable position. “If you consider five toes as cars, women are placing five cars in three parking spots!” explains Dr. Miltchin. In contrast, shoes with support offer a stiff heel counter to grip the heel and provide arch support and some shock-absorbing qualities in the mid- and/or outer sole. Dr. Miltchin recommends that his patients invest in a brand of sandals, flip-flops and other shoes called Vionic because “they are highly supportive and incorporate corrective orthotic technology to stabilize the foot and upper body.”

HEELS CAUSE PROBLEMS

If heels are worn once in a while you will likely prevent these problems, but when worn daily, “a myriad of problems can manifest themselves,” warns Dr. Miltchin.

Overpronation: Most of us have a genetic, hereditary mechanical imbalance in our feet called overpronation. “Overpronation is an excessive rolling of the foot towards the arch and big toe joint. When a woman wears heels, she overpronates excessively,” he explains, causing various problems, including foot, ankle, knee, hip and lower back pain.”

Bunions & Big Toe joint Arthiritis: “Although bunions and big toe joint arthritis aren’t necessarily caused by heels, the extra weight and stress on the joint makes the condition worse sooner,” warns Dr. Miltchin.

Plantar Fasciitis: Also another culprit of overpronation, plantar fasciitis is often referred to as heel spur syndrome, shin splints, corns on the toes and calluses, to name a few.

Knee, Hip, Low Back Pain: For Dr. Miltchin problems in areas other than the foot itself is what he calls “the Leaning Tower of Pisa Effect. Feet are the foundation of our body, and we put all our body weight on them. When the foundation isn’t structurally sound, it can affect the structures higher up, including misalignment of the spine and knees.”

Shortened Achilles Tendon: After wearing heels for some time, “the strongest tendon in the body, known as the Achilles tendon, which arises from the three calf muscles in the back of the leg, shortens over time. If one chooses to switch to wearing flats or alternate footwear later in life, the consequence is severe heel pain and cramping” as the shortened tendon is being stretched beyond its length.

SOLUTIONS AND PROCEDURES

Orthotics: “If overpronation is diagnosed early enough, the mechanics of the feet can be adjusted using a prescription orthotic device (shoe insole), which will help avoid problems such as bunions.”

Achilles Night Splint: For a shortened Achilles tendon, an Achilles night splint can be prescribed to be worn in bed for a number of weeks to stretch out the calf muscles and provide long-term relief of painful leg discomfort.

Bunion Correction: To find out what method is best for, you get a bunion consultation, which includes a foot examination, X-rays, diagnosis and an explanation of surgical alternatives if feasible.

Considered when a bunion progresses so much that it can no longer be corrected with an orthotic. “The surgical treatment will vary depending on X-ray analysis and severity of the deformity. Most bunion procedures focus on realigning the bony deformities of the bunion and big toe joint,” explains Dr. Miltchin.

  • OPTION 2: Minimally invasive surgery

A newer method with faster healing, lower risk and a preferred cosmetic result, there are no stitches, casts, crutches, screws, staples, pins or wires placed in the bones, and incisions are very tiny. The surgery takes less than 30 minutes and patients walk immediately. Depending on the procedure, patients may have the front of their foot taped and wear a surgical shoe for six weeks. During this period, patients are encouraged to walk normally and return to work promptly.

Cost of Bunion Surgery: Approximately $4,500, although it can vary. Podiatric services are not covered by OHIP, but many additional third party-insurance plans may cover a portion.

SENSIBLE SHOES

Don’t worry: Letting go of those stilettos isn’t the end of the world (we promise)! Here are a few shoe styles from two brands that will keep your feet healthy, while still looking chic! Vionic Shoes’ have a built-in orthapedic technology designed in all of shoe styles. Meanwhile, these styles of ECCO shoes allow customers to put their own custom pair of orthotics inside for proper foot and arch support. Choose a brand based on your needs.

ECCO Touch Collection Touch 75B in Black, $225

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ECCO Sculptured 75 Sculptured in Green Gables, $185

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Vionic Allora in Black, $140

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Vionic Anchor in Bronze Metallic, $155

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