High Heels, High Price

High heels have long been glamorized as a definition of femininity, poise, and grace. Women concerned with fashion covet designer brands. They pair them with dresses, skirts, suits and even bikinis. Models, beauty queens and business women wear them. In short (or tall), a great many women love high heels.

But platforms, stilettos and wedges also have a dark side. From the pointy-toed pairs that squeeze feet, to sky-high stems that twist ankles into unnatural positions, such changes to the feet’s mechanics can, over time, lead to medical conditions, including bunions and hammertoes. Doctors have been vilifying heels for years, and — more and more — lay people, including A-listers like Victoria Beckham, the Queen of Stilettos, are beginning to agree and seriously question– Is fashion really worth the price?

What’s a bunion?

Bunions are relatively common, but they are certainly a pain (literally). What starts as an abnormal bony bump at the joint of the big toe can grow and become more uncomfortable over time. The enlarged joint causes the big toe to stiffen and turn inward. While bunions can occur as a result of inheriting a particular foot type, they often occur as a result of wearing shoes that do not fit properly.

Once a bunion has been diagnosed after a physical examination and X-ray, treatment options can be considered. Depending on the extent of the bunion, surgical treatment might be the best option. This can range from an osteotomy and soft tissue release to a tarsometatarsal fusion. After a surgical procedure, recovery can take about 3 weeks and will require a supportive boot, crutches and physical therapy.

What’s a hammertoe?

Hammertoes are crooked, contracted toes that look like an inverted “V.” Like bunions, hammertoes can be related to hereditary abnormalities or arthritis, but wearing poorly fitting shoes can also cause them to occur. The toes buckle — and eventually become stuck in a bent position — as a result of a muscle or tendon imbalance. Swelling and redness are common with the condition and hammertoes can make movement difficult and/or painful.

While wearing roomier shoes and using tape to redirect toes is an option, surgery is recommended for severe cases. This can mean removing a fraction of bone from the joint, releasing the tendon that is causing the toe to bend, or fusing bones together using a metal pin to keep the toe in a correct position.

Help! I don’t want to develop bunions or hammertoes!

I hear you! Prevention is key. Cut back on sky-high shoes, and don’t force your feet into shoes that don’t fit you — no matter how stylish they may be. Get your feet properly sized in a shoe store, and choose footwear that is roomy. No one wants surgery, but if a bunion or hammertoe is negatively impacting your life, it might be the best option.