Ladies, shoes can really hurt sometimes, But how much are the y REALLY hurting your feet? Find out ....
The Ballet Flat - There's a reason why flats are so popular. They offer basic support, more balance and less strain on the lower leg. For everyday use, they're a fairly safe bet, but there may be a downside to your "sensible" shoes. As Dr. Novella explains, devoted heel lovers can actually feel uncomfortable when they suddenly slip into flats all day. "People who are used to heels can experience plantar fasciitis or strain of the band, which supports the arch," he said. And, because of the shape of the shoe, toe movement may be restricted, causing pressure on the sides of the foot and eventually could lead to bunions.
One solution is to choose a wide toe-box flat that will prevent any toe crunching, or simply being more aware of toe restraint. A few cushioned flats to throw on whenever your don't need to wear something fancy can certainly help, as well.
The Stiletto - The stiletto offers several challenges, from finding your balance to serious foot aches after a week's worth of wear. "It's a very thin heel support and it's a very high lift so it puts the body in a biomechanically compromising [position]," Wharton explains. And, whether you know it or not, your body is doing serious work just to keep you up in your pumps. "If you're not used to wearing them and you haven't adapted to them, you [may] strain muscles in that posterior chain, which is coming from the heel, through the calf, up into the knee, through the hamstring, up into the gluteal, and up into the back." Commonly, the engaged muscles in the calves and elsewhere may even remain in their contracted, shortened state even after the heels are removed.
The good news? Swapping in a pair of flats for the commute or trying a kitten heel (between one and two inches) are both great options.
The Flip Flop - You may not be shocked to find that flip flops generally offer no support. But, that may not be a bad thing. As Wharton explains, due to the shoe's lack of support, the job falls on the natural structure of the body, making the foot and ankle do all the work. Light use over time may actually lead to a stronger foot, "as muscles adapt to more natural work and less support."
But, trading in your weekday shoes for weekend flip-flops may not always be an easy transition. "If someone used to heels suddenly wears flip-flops all day, they run the risk of muscle or tendon injury," says Dr. Novella. "The best way to change from one style to another is gradually...either in terms of gradual increase or reduction in heel height or support." And like most cases in which our bodies feel discomfort, you need to trust your instincts, he says: If you feel pain, don't assume it's okay to push through it.
The Thick Heel - In case you didn't get the memo, we love a chunky heel. We can personally attest to these soles providing more balance and stability - thankfully, the experts agree. These sky-high pairs can still come with ankle and stability issues, but the strap and stacked heel may offset the hazards.
Any initial discomfort you may feel from this thicker style is similar to that of a pump, "but the body would adapt quicker," Wharton says. But, despite the benefit of the ankle strap, the high heel can compromise your posture. Dr. Novella said the muscles on the sides and front of the hips are engaged, the leg is lengthened, and the hips may sway. What may sound like a sexy supermodel walk can also be dangerous. "The overuse of the muscles in the front of the hip can tighten these flexors and increase low back curvature, which can lead to back problems," he says.
The Shearling Boot (aka Uggs)- Style preferences aside, the shearling boot didn't rank so poorly among our foot experts. While both agreed that the shoe itself does not offer a lot of support, the tall shaft may have some benefits. Because of the shoe height, "the ankle solidly anchors the footgear to the foot, encouraging confident long strides which employ and strengthen a fuller complement of muscles in the lower extremity," said Dr. Novella.
Those who choose to walk (not run!) in the chunky boot could experience strain in the back, Achilles, or calf, if your foot is more accustomed to walking in a heel. In the long run, any effects of wearing these very popular boots are probably not going to cause serious damage as they are seasonal, says Dr. Novella. But, should you happen to be a fan, don't assume the plush lining can double as a sock. According to our expert, this style may be "unhygienic and malodorous" if your foot's going commando.
While this sounds a bit alarming, Wharton presents a different angle: the heel offers a little more support than other heel styles, and is more adaptable. "There is a wider sole and a lower angle of lift," he said, which may help a woman's body adapt to these pairs quicker than others. And while the long-term effects are similar to that of a stiletto or ankle-strap shoe, the severity is less and can be corrected with the proper excersices. After all, a healthy foot is one that can enjoy a multitude of styles. But, more on that in the final slide…
The Antidote - Both of our trusted experts agree that our favorite shoes can be enjoyed for a lifetime in moderation. Dr. Novella stresses that our feet need time to recover from the strain we may put on them, which means that switching pairs when you arrive to your destination may mean the difference between blissfully dancing the night away or spoiling a special moment with pains in your soles.
If you condition your body to "prepare to wear," as he calls it, you may be able to avoid the negative short- and long-term dangers. To take the first step, he's laid out a combination of daily flexibility exercises that can help. Take a peek at them here!