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Tips to Avoid Foot Pain From High Heels

Experts discuss foot care techniques to cope with the painful consequences of wearing high heels.
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WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Do the most important men in your life -- and the shoe boxes in your closet -- bear the names Manolo, Jimmy C, Enzo, and Stevie M?  If so, then there's a good chance high heels are a part of your life.

But unlike Carrie Bradshaw in TV's Sex and the City -- who chased men, taxis, and sometimes a dog in the park while teetering on 4-inch stilettos -- high-heeled life in the real world can be a killer.

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"Women do love their high heels, but if you wear them all the time, significant foot pain and other problems can ensue, either as a direct result of the heels or exacerbated by them," says Morris Morin, DPM, director of podiatric medicine at the Hackensack University Medical Center.

Problems range from common concerns like bunions, corns, and calluses to more complex issues like misshapen hammertoes or that excruciating pain in the ball of the foot that seems to grow worse with each passing year. 

Still, many women refuse to give up their high heels: A survey conducted by the American Podiatric Medical Association showed some 42% of women admitted they'd wear a shoe they liked even if it gave them discomfort; 73% admitted already having a shoe-related foot issue.

So what's the answer? Doctors say if you must wear them at all, take a few precautions, and catch and treat problems early on. If you do, you'll not only avoid many high-heel problems, but you'll make the time you spend in spikes a happier day for your feet.

(Do you often wear high heels? Share your experiences on WebMD's Women’s Health: Friends Talking message board.)

High Heels and Foot Pain: What You Should Know

Anytime you wear shoes that are tight or constrict the natural shape of your foot, doctors say it's bound to cause foot pain.

But when you add high heels in to the equation, podiatrist Stuart Mogul, DPM, says pain can quickly escalate to damage.

"In addition to restricting the foot, you are also increasing the weight on the area that is restricted, so you're not only crushing your toes, but you're crushing them and then putting weight on them, and that's a problem," says Mogul.

Among the most common problems he sees are painful, aching bunions -- those bony protrusions that usually pop up at the base of the big toe and distort the shape of the foot.

"High heels don't cause bunions, but they sure can aggravate them. Both the heel height and the point of the shoe can play a role," says Mogul.

Moreover, he says some women who have bunions also have a displaced bone on the bottom of the big toe joint, which changes the way the foot "tracks" or acts during motion.

"If the foot is then placed in a high heel, and pitched forward, the pressure on these bones increases and bunion pain grows worse," he says. 

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