Fall Shoe Safety

Although the weather may suggest otherwise, fall fashion is in full effect. Unfortunately, our choice of shoes and bags may be placing unnecessary stress on joints and muscles that over time may cause serious pain or injury.

Large purses and briefcases can cause shoulder, neck, elbow and back pain, and even serious injury. And wearing poorly fitting shoes, especially those with high heels, platforms or pointed toes, can result in bunions, hammertoes, corns, knee and lower back pain, and other conditions.

According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, many women suffer from ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) injuries as a result of wearing high heels. Men may also develop foot conditions from ill-fitting dress or work shoes.

Woman fall wear street style with black pants and sweater

Our feet and backs ache after wearing heels for an extended period of time because the shoes change our body’s natural alignment.

“Your body has to adjust its normal posture to accommodate the high heels,” explains Dr. Troy Ardoin, a physician at Arkansas Specialty Orthopaedics specializing in foot and ankle care. “The higher the heel, the more it has to accommodate. Your hips lean slightly forward, and your belly is out, so it causes you to use more of your spinal and hamstring muscles. These are muscles you don’t normally use, so it causes you to feel tired.”

In fact, if you wear tall heels every day, they can cause damage. “If your feet are continuously cramped into a pointed toe, it can cause ingrown toenails or cause your bunions to hurt more,” says Dr. Ardoin.

Wearing heels that are taller than 3 inches on a regular basis can even cause shortening of the Achilles muscle, which can lead to ongoing pain, particularly when you return to wearing flats or go barefoot. A heel 3 inches or taller increases the pressure on the ball of the foot by 76 percent. By comparison, a heel 2 inches or higher increases that pressure by 57 percent, and a heel 1 inch or higher increases it by 22 percent.

A stiletto with a very narrow heel also can increase your susceptibility to an ankle sprain.

But, because pain is fashion, Dr. Ardoin offers a few more tips to help alleviate some of the pain.

  • Buy heels that are less than 2 inches tall.
  • Avoid a very pointed toe. Look for shoes that have a wider toe box and offer cushioning in the inner sole for the balls of the feet.
  • Don’t go cheap. The better the shoe quality is, the better it feels.
  • Buy shoes at the end of the day – really. Your feet swell from standing during the day, so this will ensure a better fit.
  • Take frequent breaks out of your heels and stretch your Achilles tendon with a jogger’s stretch.

At the end of a day in heels, Dr. Ardoin recommends further exercises to stretch out your heel cord and hamstring to help your muscles recover. Core strengthening exercises and stretching your lower back muscles also help you recuperate.

Dr. Troy Ardoin is the recipient of numerous accolades and has presented research at several national meetings. As a subspecialist in surgery of the foot and ankle, he has helped thousands of people and treated the full range of foot and ankle conditions and injuries.