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Are Heels Bad for Your Feet? Putting Our Best Foot Forward with Dr. Shannon Thompson

Here at Confidence Daily we’re dedicated to helping women feel confident in every aspect of life, so we invited Podiatrist Shannon Thompson, DPM to help us put our best foot forward.

Dr. Shannon Thompson is one of Boston’s leading podiatrists and the owner of Ace Feet, a premiere private practice specializing in orthotics, medical pedicures, foot pain treatment, fungal toenail removal, and much more.

Dr. Thompson has over 10 years of experience treating patients in hospitals, podiatric private practices, sports medicine facilities and hospital-based clinics. She is a member of the American Academy of Podiatric Sports Medicine, as well as the American College of Sports Medicine.

Are there differences between men and women’s feet?

Yes, actually. Research on the structural and biomechanical differences between men’s and women’s feet have found statistically significant differences. Research has shown that females have a wider forefoot, and a shorter outside ball of the foot. Meaning that if you were able to draw a straight line connecting the base of the great toe to the base of the little toe, females would have a more angled line, and men would have a more horizontal line. Women tend to have smaller bone structure, specifically with relatively smaller metatarsal heads. Men were found to have longer and broader feet than women, for a given stature. Researchers in Japan found that women have a greater first toe angle, otherwise known as a bunion.

In general, what should women look for in a good shoe?

A good shoe fits well and feels comfortable. The major factors at play for a great fitting women’s shoe is material of the upper, or top part of the shoe’s forefoot and the heel height. Women with bunions, wide feet, or hammertoes, should look for shoes with an Upper made of flexible material that will give here and there as the toes flex. For most people, a 1”-2” heel height is best. People with flat feet often feel better with a slightly higher heel.

Are there pros and cons of wearing heels?

Sure, one benefit is that wearing heels tends to cause the lower back muscles to engage, which strengthens your posture. A higher heel takes strain off of the rearfoot and ankle, easing tension on the achilles tendon and plantar arch. Often, we prescribe heel lifts in shoes just for this reason. However, the trade-off here is that there is more strain on the ball of foot, which has to uphold a great deal more strain. Over time, this can lead to injuries such as metatarsalgia or neuromas over time.

Are certain heels better for your feet than others?

Heels with a thicker heel base, like platform heels, wedge heels, or heel boots, offer more stability. Kitten heels tend to be lower than stilettos or pumps and are generally a more comfortable style for most. When it comes to toe comfort a peep toe heel is best.

We all know that proverbial phrase, “beauty is pain,” and sometimes the most gorgeous pair of heels can be the most painful. Why do heels hurt your feet?

Heels force our feet into an unnatural position. They cause us to essentially walk on our toes, since a high heel often makes the foot slide forward in the shoe. Our toes then get scrunched up, and that’s never comfortable.

What’s your advice on picking out the perfect heel?

Start with an evaluation of your feet, any foot issues you are dealing with, then shop accordingly. So, If you have any balance issues or a history of weak ankles, consider limiting yourself to no more than a 2” heel height. If you have bunions, look for heels with a wider forefoot. There are some really accommodating, pointy-toed shoes that can be comfortable for women with bunions. These shoes are either structured so that the pointy tip of the shoe is well beyond the toe joints, or they’re open over the base of the middle toes.

If you had to sum it up, are heels bad for your feet?

I wouldn’t say that heels are bad for your feet, but I wouldn’t advise wearing them on a daily basis, or for a prolonged period of time!

Anything else you’d like to share?

I think that the enjoyment you can get from wearing a beautiful shoe can supercede the temporary discomfort that heels most often deliver. I often tell patients that if they wear supportive, well-fitting shoes the majority of the time, they will be fine to enjoy a night out in impractical, but beautiful shoes.

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