Al D'Angelantonio, III, DPM, looks at feet as the foundation for the rest of the body. Like the structure of a house, if support isn’t there, the structure will start to fail. As such, everything from precariously high heels to unsupported flip-flops can have short- and long-term consequences on your joints, bones and quality of life.
Take high heels, for example: if the heel height is greater than 3 inches, you are putting major stress on the ball of your foot.
- If you wear heels regularly, your Achilles tendon contracts and can become difficult to stretch out.
- If you have early signs or are at high risk for bunions (when your big toe points toward your second toe and a bump appears), they will get worse with continued pressure and weight on the front toe joint.
- The mechanics of walking in heels requires muscles in front of your leg to work overtime, trying to pull the foot up and clear the ground, which will exacerbate existing hammer toes (when your second, third or fourth toe becomes permanently bent, looking like a hammer).
To prevent pain and progressive injury, Dr. D'Angelantonio recommends keeping the height under 3 inches. Or, if you want to wear very high heels, wear them in moderation. Dr. D’Angelantonio is the very first foot and ankle surgeon to pioneer a dedicated lower extremity fellowship within Plastic Surgery at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. His fellowship training focuses on providing patients with both functional and aesthetic outcomes for all conditions of the foot, ankle, and lower leg.
As for flats, flip-flops and sandals, support is key. On average, we take about 10,000 steps per day (not including exercise), so imagine the impact that your body - from your feet, ankles, knees, and even your back - has to take when there’s no cushioning to absorb the impact. Like a car, you need support to keep the mechanics aligned and balanced to prevent wear and tear on your joints. If you wear the same shoes regularly, their support function will likely only last for 3 to 6 months - another excuse to go shoe shopping!
And, when switching shoes for a new season, remember that your feet expand and contract - from flattening arches caused by unsupported flip-flops, to temperature changes, water retention, and even hormones - so expect that your foot will have to adjust to different shoes.
If you have foot or ankle pain, have it checked out by a doctor. The earlier you get treated, the better. If you wait until symptoms are really bad, it usually takes a longer time to recover and can require more complex procedures.
"If you bite the bullet to deal with pain, you are going to create more problems down the line," said D'Angelantonio.
While feet are "designed to take a beating," they serve a crucial function in getting us from point A to point B and need to be supported and protected to prevent debilitating issues.
Happy shoe shopping!
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