Years ago, a picture of Madonna’s daughter, then all of about four, made the rounds. I was horrified to see this young girl in shoes that had heels of at least 1-1/2′.

We would not build a house on sand, so why do we neglect and abuse our feet?  There are many proactive steps we could be taking to ensure we have our foundation steady under us.

Dr. Cynthia LaBella, Medical Director of Sports Medicine at Lurie Children’s Hospital in Chicago, cautions us that “The shoe must suit the sport, and also the surface”. When artificial turf and grass and court come into play in an athlete’s life, “there should be three different pairs of sports shoes”. Walking across wet turf at sixteen in boots with three-inch heels, I slipped and could have done a world of harm to my ankle, though at the time I thought the torn-off heel on those once-nice boots the saddest state.
When it comes to sprained ankles, sports injuries, heels and platforms are the big offenders. It’s true that this is usually a mild injury, with RICE – Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation – relieving most cases. But there are always some twists that never mend right. If the structure or shape of the foot changes, what has a young athlete done to her chances not only of winning a game, but avoiding surgery or future play free of lingering injurious effects? Why compromise not only the ability to walk and run freely but a possible career for mere fashion?

For those in high heels on a regular basis, Dr. LaBella warns that “Foreshortened Achilles’ tendons can be a real problem. Because the back of the lower leg is inadequately stretched, the once-powerful tendon gradually shrinks.” This can make it painful or impossible to walk in flats or even to go barefoot. She also said, “The effects of this plantarflexion can extend into the knees, hips, and back: they alter one’s gait and are associated with chronic knee pain.”
Japanese women who died for their fashion sense include a nursery teacher who toppled off her platforms and fractured her head, and the woman whose 8″ heel got stuck under the pedals in her car, causing her to crash.
High heels have the effect of making a woman’s leg seem longer and shapelier, which is therefore supposed to be more attractive to men. If a male does not appreciate someone comfortable in her own skin — when she can run — that doesn’t say much for him as a person.

There are millions of toes out there crammed into too-small spaces. Pointy shoes can cause another host of medical issues, none attractive, because incorrect pressures can compromise the structure of the foot. A heel bone spur caused by high heels occurs with such frequency that doctors named it the “pump bump”. 3″ heels (versus 1″) have been found to increase the stress on the foot seven-fold. “Boots and shoes must be the right size for your child, and not pinch or rub,” says Dr. LaBella, “one’s toes should never hit the front.” This is sound advice for adult feet as well.

Rumor has it that rogue doctors will cut off portions of healthy toes to allow a woman to wear pointed shoes, which she may consider her favorites. Have we forgotten already about the foot binding that went on in China into the last century? Among the upper classes, the woman’s foot wast tightly wrapped, toes to heel, beginning at birth. This deformed their feet so they could not even walk; the ones who had to be carried everywhere were called the most beautiful. Would we call that beautiful now? If we find binding barbaric and ghastly, how much more so voluntary amputation?

Permitting one’s child on equipment in any shoes without closed toes is to tempt fate in the worst way. Dr. LaBella related that she had a patient years ago who, “while riding her bike, caught one sandal in it, and avulsed her big toe”. In other words, the toe was completely torn off. Running in flip-flops, something I’d never given a second thought to, a childhood playmate caught the front on the level sidewalk itself, tripped, and ripped her big toenail off. Open shoes and flip-flops do not protect our feet from injuries and they do not support the structure of the foot the way closed shoes do. Open shoes should be used in moderation and only under restricted circumstances – for instance at the beach or in the locker room, and only for short stretches if you think you won’t have to run.

On a note that might seem unrelated, perhaps you want open-toe shoes just to show off your nail polish. Nail polish fumes compromise the health of both those working in the factories where polish profits start and of nail-salon workers. And what happens when we throw away dried-up bottles? Polish is not biodegradable, so it further takes up space in landfills and pollutes the waters. One easy thing more folks could do to support the Earth is never to use nail polish.

Many people roll one or both feet, in or out, unconsciously; evidence may be just slightly uneven wear; soles worn down on one side, sometimes only on one shoe, as the wearer walks on the outer or inner edge. Normal gait can be forever altered if it persists, small changes gradually becoming worse and problems referring themselves up the skeletal system.

Our kids borrowing shoes from friends as easily as clothes might seem okay, but we should discourage it. Humans get athlete’s foot, nail fungi, and plantar warts, all of which are transmissible. The wart virus, once established in our bodies, may go dormant, but it never leaves.

A cousin recently said she had been three times to a spa for a pedicure, and the same woman worked on her each time, digging stuff out from under her nail, and exclaiming “Doesn’t that feel better?!”  To which my cousin said, “No it HURTS.”  After that third visit, she went to a podiatrist, who informed her she had an ingrown nail, and that “If you make a space, the nail will fill it in.”  Shades of Nature abhorring a vacuum.

Because we cannot run fast (or at all) in high heels, often teetering standing still, improper footwear can do nothing but hinder you in the event of danger. No one knows what’s around the next corner — maybe an individual who views you as prey. We should always be ready to fight or flee.

I would never permit my daughter to put her hand in a vise, and I will not hamstring her future by getting her high heels. We must guide our children and teens in distinguishing want from necessity, what we merely perceive as safe from what actually is. If your child can cry “Everybody else is wearing them!” and you give in, you are no longer the tutor or adult – the fashionistas are calling the shots.



About majaramirez

former assistant instructor in tai chi chu'an; current TreeKeeper (#467); former Master Gardener; member of American Bird Conservancy, Audubon, Fraternal Order of Police, and Mensa; recently retired career cop; wife and mom.
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