While high heels have long been an acceptable and desirable fashion trend for women, they may also be a dangerous addiction. The first 3D scan of a female foot in high heels shows the damage the shoes can have orthopedically, the Daily Mail reports. Are high heels essentially corsets for your feet?
According to orthopedic surgeon Andy Goldberg, when people wear high heels, the weight of their body gets forced to the front of the foot. Prolonged wear of high heels can therefore result hyperextension of the toes that are under intense pressure as they are squashed together into rigid, unnatural forms. The trademark bunions and corns of high heel enthusiasts that appear on the big toe are also a result of this pressure.
Using a PEDCat scanner, which does a 360 scan of a patient's feet in 60 seconds, at the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital in Stanmore, North London, doctors like Goldberg were able to witness the damage done by high heels firsthand, giving them views from above, below and to the side of the foot and its bones in heels.
"With high heels, the toes are squashed inside the shoe," Goldberg told the Daily Mail. "The more stiletto-shaped they are, the worse it is. The toes not only get squashed, but they become clawed too. The base of the big toe becomes 'deviated outwards', forming a bunion, while the scanner also shows how these bones can become 'rotated and dropped'. Pea-shaped bones under the base of the big toe - called sesamoids - get dislodged by the immense pressures put on them."
Not to worry, high heels fans, as Goldberg assures that temporary use of high heels does not necessarily damage the foot, but if you wear high heels for "up to eight hours a day for years on end, you will develop problems."
However, Goldberg didn't just have older women in his clinic for heel-related problems, as he explained that it wasn't uncommon for him to treat teenage girls whose feet have already been damaged. However, such patients often already had pre-existing foot problems.
"If you have got a family history of high heel wearers and you wear them a lot, you are pretty much guaranteed to develop bunions," Goldberg said. "If you are not genetically predisposed, wearing high heels may accelerate bunions."
Though many women may assume that the pain is worth the price of beauty, Goldberg warns that prolonged use of high heels can lead to severe foot and ankle pain as well as problems with gait down the road. Misshapen big toes, hammertoes (a deformity of the proximal interphalangeal joint of the second, third, or fourth toe), corns, bunions, and severe pain in the ball of the foot can all result from extended high heel use.
"In extreme cases you actually have the bony ends of the foot grating down into the sole of the shoe with almost no protection at all," Morris Morin, DPM, director of podiatric medicine at the Hackensack University Medical Center, told WebMD.
"What we should be doing is fitting people's shoes around their feet, rather than the other way around," Goldberg said. "If a fashion icon such as Victoria Beckham designed a range of shoes that really fitted our feet, then that would be a real game-changer."
The solution? Avoid wearing high heels for extended periods of time, and bring comfortable shoes with sole support to change into during the day if you must wear them.