Foot & AnkleJust PostedPain


I loved a high heeled pump as well as any other healthy, All-American girl, and I wore them from the time I was able to buy my own shoes, until wearing them became so painful, I had to take them off under a conference table…and get to a table quickly. All are gone, except one pair of boots, a shrine to past abilities. At 6 feet tall, I was somewhat outstanding in a pair of 3 to 4-inch shoes, and my hubby, comfortable with his own masculinity, did not care that I was several inches taller than him…or at least he never indicated he did. Have to think on that one a little bit.

I bought my first pair in 1970, Italian rust-colored suede mounted on top of a tremendous 4-inch blocked heel and platform. I was probably protesting my mom, who would not allow high heels because I was so tall…and had bunions. Now I can say she was right. But back then…Well, I bought them with my first real paycheck, considering that at 50 cents an hour, babysitting money was not real, and not enough to buy those gorgeous shoes from Tootsies in Houston. I had surgery on my feet at 17, just so I could wear strappy, high heeled sandals to my senior prom. So, you can see I was as dedicated to the use of high heels as any of you. Even after becoming an orthopedic surgeon, and understanding the complexity of my foot problems, as well as the detrimental effects of high heels on our amazing, delicate feet, I continued to wear them…until I couldn’t!

Making a successful preemptive strike at protecting my feet in my forties, I started wearing “healthy” shoes, thereby resting that large ball joint of the forefoot, which is so detrimentally affected by bunion deformities and high heels. Even though I had successful surgery, there are long-term effects of having bunions, no matter when you have them fixed. But I simply started wearing thick-soled, over-the-ankle, lace-up hiking boots with my scrubs. Fashion perks of being a surgeon. I also stopped wearing high-heels for the most part, wearing them only for dress-up. I slowly eliminated them from my wardrobe, except for the occasional stacked-heel boot. I attribute my current, pain-free state to that educated decision. My orthopedic training…worth it.

Via practical and professional experience, I also began to see the problems with backless shoes. A mule stays on the foot either by being tight across the delicate structures of the forefoot, or holding it on by crimping the shoe tight with our toes. Neither is good for our feet.

High heels, flip flops, mules and backless slippers are a source of income for orthopedic surgeons, and you know what I say to that.

“If it makes your orthopedic surgeon money, it’s something you probably shouldn’t be doing.”

You can really quote me on that, and I’ll own it.

At least as we age, we should begin reassessing our shoe wardrobe, and we should try as much as possible, especially when it doesn’t matter…to wear “healthy shoes.” You can search through my blog to find my definitions of “healthy” shoe wear. Doesn’t really have to be ugly.

Should we ever wear high heels? Hell no. Easy to say now that I’m not worshipping them and I’m married (because you have to wear high heels to catch a mate, right). But high-heels have become very exaggerated and almost incapacitating. They alter the way we walk. Besides ruining our feet and damaging our joints, they also put a woman in the position of not being able to escape from danger. They make us vulnerable. In those terms, it’s not unlike the not-altogether-ancient practice of Chinese foot-binding.

Foot binding, was practiced for over 1000 years, and at its height, almost every girl in China had her feet bound for the purpose of having what appeared to be, a tiny (3-5 inch) foot.

A painful process was performed by every good mother, to deform them into a grotesque shape, which they thought looked like a lotus blossom. Besides being a symbol of status, it also disabled a woman. It was a sign of wealth when a woman couldn’t walk or work, and had to be carried about. The tiny, misshapen foot was also considered erotic, much as the wearing of a sexy high heel is today. Eventually it became a cultural norm, and women in lower classes had it done as well. The stiff-legged gait that developed as a result of the painful deformity became essentially a fad, even to be imitated by those who opted out.

Pressure from Western missionaries and feminists eventually brought the barbaric practice to light in the early 1900s, but it took another century to curtail the tradition. It was finally outlawed by the Communists, so the women could join the workforce. There are still elderly women alive today with the deformities of bound feet!

Courtesy Jo Farrell

In many ways, we are doing the same thing to ourselves through the use of high heels. The desire to wear them is robust in our culture. The higher the heel, the more desirable the shoe…to the eyes of men and women. The deforming forces are strong, and can be permanent. The high heel damages bones, joints and nerves. The pain and deformity of bunions, hammer toes and neuromas is exacerbated, if not caused by the use of high heels. A woman cannot walk with a normal gait in them. She has to bend forward, flex her knees, sway her pelvis and stomp, because a normal heel-toe step is impossible to perform in them. The affected gait is considered sexy to men. She is in some ways, hobbled by them, just like the women of China. And like the women of China, she is considered more desirable when wearing them. Studies show men find women wearing high heels to be sexier! They like seeing them bound up in those shoes. They like to imagine taking them off…or not. But then there are those bunions, blisters, squished toes, sweat and redness. Euwww.

This warning isn’t new. My mom told me. I knew it when I was a young woman, even before becoming an orthopedic surgeon. I could feel the destructive forces. Then I saw women in my practice, with blistered, red, scrunched, swollen toes, wearing the exact shoe which reproduced the pain!

It might require a revolution to make us stop wearing them! All studies indicate that both men and women judge women to be sexier in high heels. We adore them. We’re not imagining ourselves during the 2-4 decades we’ll call the “golden years.”

Mothers…usually right…discourage your daughters from wearing high heels as a rule.

Ladies, consider wearing them less. Less is better.

Fashionistas…provide us with adorable, comfortable, sexy, flat shoes which accommodate our growing feet!

Courtesy Grosescu Alberto Mihai
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