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The cost of high heels may be measured in pain

September 29, 2009 |  6:15 am

Beauty is pain, as the saying goes. Now there's evidence to back it up: Wearing high-heeled shoes now may mean suffering foot pain later, according to a new study.


Study subjects were asked whether they felt pain, aching or stiffness in one or both feet on most days, and if so, what part of their foot hurt (nails, forefoot, hindfoot, heel, arch and ball of the foot). The 3,372 participants were from the Framingham Foot Study, made up of people from the Framingham Study Original Cohort and the Framingham Offspring Cohort who were evaluated from 2002 to 2008. Numbers of men and women were about equal.

Their most common footwear worn currently and previously was divided into several categories and among age groups. The shoe categories were: poor (high-risk shoes that lacked support and structure, such as high heels, sandals and slippers), average (mid-risk shoes with hard or rubber soles such as work boots) and good (low-risk shoes offering good support and safety, such as sneakers).

One-fourth of all participants said they had generalized foot pain on most days. The researchers also said that in women they found an increased risk between having pain in the hindfoot and wearing poor shoes in the past, even after adjusting for weight and age. Fewer men reported pain than women (19% versus 29%), but only 1.6% of men said they wore shoes in the poor category.

In the study, the researchers said that wearing good shoes makes sense for protecting the hindfoot from pain. They wrote: "It is also possible that the single association seen at the hindfoot is due to the tightness of the heelcords that might result from sustained use of high heels." If this is the case, they add, stretching exercises might offset problems caused by poor shoes.

The study appears in the October issue of the journal Arthritis Care & Research.

-- Jeannine Stein

 Photo credit: Peter Foley / EPA