July 11th, 2008
11:33 AM ET

Shoe envy can cause a pain in the foot

By Val Willingham

CNN Medical Producer


OK ladies. Admit it.  Don't you just envy someone like Carrie Bradshaw from “Sex and the City”?   Not only does she look good in the most ridiculous of outfits but at 40-something, she can strut around in those Manolos without falling over.  I would give up my platinum American Express card to wear a pair of those shoes.  But alas, with my arches, bunions and high instep, I haven't a chance.  And according to doctors, Carrie may not be far behind me.  It might be time for her to trade in those stilettos for a smaller heel.


Podiatrists say as we age, the type of shoes we wear can lead to plenty of foot injuries. Yet a lot of people never associate what they put on their feet with their podiatric pain until they begin to age.


In our 30s it's all about the height of the shoe. Certain styles can cause years of pain as you get older. According to Kathya Zinszer, a doctor with the Temple University School of Podiatric Medicine, high shoes can cause heel pain, the formation of bunions and foots flare-ups.  Foot problems caused by improper footwear have become such an issue, researchers at Temple are now testing  the effects of different shoe styles on feet.  Equipped with a runway, pressure plates and computer analysis, doctors are finding the higher the heel, the more stress on toes and ankle joints.  That causes a multitude of long-lasting health issues. Zinszer says they've seen chronic effects from actually wearing heels for a long time. “That actually effect the muscles, the balance, deformities, and the number one thing is degenerative joint disease, also known as osteoarthritis," she said.


And it's not just a health problem for women.   Men can suffer from fashionable shoe issues as well.  "We are looking at the toe boxes in men, where they are a lot narrower, causing bunions and hammertoes," Zinszer said.


In our 40s and 50s, deterioration of bones and muscles may cause the arches in our feet to become lax and lose support.  Doctors say watch the flats and  flip-flops; look for something with a little heel to give you balance, which can still protect your arches.  There are a lot of muscles and tendons in our feet and if we don't treat them right with proper support, they can pinch, collapse and twist.  The result? Lasting pain!


And if you exercise at any age, make sure you get a good-fitting shoe designed for the sport you're involved in. Tennis shoes aren’t appropriate for running and vice versa. The wrong footwear can cause shin splints and joint problems that give you a lifetime of discomfort. 


So, Carrie, listen to the doctors.  Maybe you can carry those Jimmy Choos in a bag and wear a good pair of sneakers while you walk the streets of New York City.  I know it's a  fashion faux pas but oh so good for your tootsies.  


What do you think?  Do you refuse to give up your fashionable shoes, even if they make your feet hurt or do you wear comfortable footwear?   Tell us about it.


Editor’s Note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation.


soundoff (48 Responses)
  1. ERIC C


    July 11, 2008 at 17:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Michelle

    I LOVE wearing platforms and shoes with tall, bizzare heals. At 5'10", I don't really need the lift from the shoes, but l love the feeling of being so tall and the attention I get from it. BUT, at 35, I realize that my hey day is coming to an end. One night out dancing last week in my platforms ended up putting me out of commission for the entire following day.

    July 11, 2008 at 18:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Gina

    I have worn 2" + heels due to a high profile job for the last 30 years. I am 59 yrs old and I now have excrutiating heel pain and pain in my calves if I wear flat heeled shoes.

    Take care of your feet.

    July 12, 2008 at 22:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. heidi breuer

    great article hope lots of women read it-

    July 13, 2008 at 08:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. dizzyd

    Well I am one of the women who cannot give up my heels yes I have bunion and foot pain and know it vain but I love shoes. I can't wear 3-4 inches at age 55 but I love at least a small cute heel. Yes I know better I am a health care provider. But please let my feet look cute.

    July 13, 2008 at 20:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Rebecca

    I know that I'm going to regret it later, but I can't resist a pair of 4" stilettos. And, no, I don't watch Sex and the City. I just love the confidence boost a good pair of hot shoes gives me.

    July 14, 2008 at 09:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Melissa

    I rarely if ever wear fashionable shoes much less own one. I have a 50 year old co-worker who did wear high heels in the past and it's caught up with her. Her feet are always in pain and she had surgery on one of them. It hurt so bad she refuses to have surgery on the other. Now she laments over the price she's paying for being fashionable. Other co-workers wear stillettos to work everyday. They have the UGLIEST feet ever! Glad I don't buy into that so my feet are pain free and cute!

    July 14, 2008 at 15:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. J.F.

    I've always worn athletic or otherwise comfortable, supportive, "sensible" shoes–never heels–but I developed bad plantar fasciitis in both heels and bunions in both big toes by the time I was 35. Bad genetics? Overuse via supposedly healthy sports & exercise (lots of hiking and jogging)? The pain is manageable with custom-made orthotics and regular stretching, and I think my feet are probably in better condition than my more fashion-conscious peers, but I wonder how my feet would feel now at 45 if I'd never worn any shoes at all...maybe if we could return to walking on all fours, we'd take a lot of strain off our overworked feet. And you fashionistas could develop heels for your hand-wear, too!

    July 15, 2008 at 16:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Ldavid

    I am at week 5 after bunion surgery. In my case it's hereditary–both my mother and sister had it done. Since I have flat feet I've never worn loafers, short shoes, or shoes with excessively high heels or pointed toes, and if they don't feel good when I try them on, they stay in the store. I like a 2 inch stacked heel pump with a wide toe box for dress and when I can find them I buy them in every color and hang onto them for years. I need something with a strap to stay on my foot properly and I actually wear 2.5 inch heels on my ballroom dance shoes. I may not have beautiful feet or wear sexy shoes but I want my feet to hold up!

    I will say the surgery was not as bad as I thought it would be–it's done outpatient, and I only had to use crutches for 5 days to keep the weight off the foot and never had any pain from the incision. Fortunately I heal well. Good thing because next year I have to do the other foot.

    July 15, 2008 at 17:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Amelia

    I am 23, and honestly can't stand high heels. I wear them for formal functions if required, but ditch them once in the door if at all possible. I have short (6.5 to 7 US) wide feet. Shoe designers don't make "sexy" shoes for my sort of feet so I'm always in pain from a bad fitting pair whenever heels are required. I loved to wear platform boots when I was in high school because I am so short, but after spraining both ankles multiple times, I have no use for fancy footwear. I need my joints for walking, swimming and riding my bike, it seems foolish to wreck them over fashion.

    July 15, 2008 at 17:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. C. Anne

    My thoughts on this might be in the minority, but the only purpose high heels serve is to dehumanize women into objects. Think Chinese foot binding practices: it makes women's feet appear smaller and childlike, pushes the back of the legs upward, making a woman's butt proportionately bigger, and keeps women captive by preventing them from running away.

    Women who think those oh so cute high heels are great, even when you are crippled by them, are simply slaves to Madison Ave. Way to go, sheep!

    July 15, 2008 at 21:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. DSL

    I just turned 40 and have arthritis in my toes. I wear high heels about once a week, to church. I walk from the house to the car, the car to the church & walk very little around the church – so I'm hoping that I can still wear my 2 to 6 inch heels for quite a few more years! The rest of the week, I wear sensible shoes & I exercise in very supportive good shoes, so I'm hoping this will help!!????

    July 16, 2008 at 01:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Kari

    No, I most certainly do not envy her. Not everyone who has foot issues has them because of the shoes they wear. I have tailor's bunions and was scolded by a podiatrist for wearing high-heeled shoes. I wasn't wearing them in his office and he should not have jumped to such conclusions. At 5'9" I have never felt it was necessary to wear them and I prefer to wear comfortable, well-fitting shoes and always have. The x-rays revealed that the cause of my tailor's bunions is structural, I have fused joints in my toes– something that I certainly didn't cause by any action I have taken. Oh, and that podiatrist actually apologized to me for jumping to the wrong conclusion too.

    July 16, 2008 at 07:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. AthenaNike

    YES! Proof that shoes DO NOT have to have supper high & narrow heels. I hate shopping for shoes because the heel always turns my opinon of the shoe from "cute" to "AGH!" I'm 5' 10", and will wear a wedge or stacked (wide) heel up to about 2', and even then I switch between sneakers and the heels when walking outside the office. I feel like I'm one of the few "sensible" ones in my age group (late 20s).

    I wonder if the study also takes into consideration what carrying extra wieght while wearing those "Sex and the City" style shoes. I know that's part of the reason I feel unstable in high heels.

    July 16, 2008 at 11:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Melissa, Los Angeles

    @ C. Anne the Chinese bound the feet of women as a sign of wealth – not to keep them from running away or objectify them. My Great Aunt by marriage had her feet bound as a child because she was from a wealthy family which meant she did not have to work and she truly didn't. My mother felt bad for her when Japan invaded China pre-WW2 and she could not run and had to be carried when their village was attacked. Ah the price women pay in the name of status and fashion....

    July 16, 2008 at 14:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Charmy

    Yes, I do wear high heels – 4" stilettos quite often. I am now 30 and still have no feet problems. However, I do not walk to work in them, and I take them off while sitting at my desk. Most importantly I get regular pedicures and take good care of my feet. I think it is possible to wear high heels, but you can't be senseless. If I am going out for a long night (rarely if ever), I take flats to wear in the car, or cute shoes with a lower heel for dancing. Why not have your cake and eat it too?

    July 19, 2008 at 15:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. C. Anne

    I appreciate that you made the cultural distinction with the custom of Chinese foot binding practices. Similar traditions are held with some desert nomad cultures where the eldest wife traditionally wore shoes that had elaborate decorations on the soles of the feet, meaning they had so much status within the family that they were exempt from the working required of lesser wives, and could remain seated with their feet propped up all day. But the overall pattern in patriarchal cultures remains the same: impairing women's ability to move comfortably as a subtle means of keeping them submissive.

    July 20, 2008 at 10:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Jennifer Griola

    After losing almost 100 pounds I am a sucker for a cute pair of shoes, but always in moderation! I would rather purchase a more expensive, but better made shoe any day of the week. I think the key is, when I'm not "out and about" I wear sensible shoes–professionally fitted athletic/running shoes, MBT's (from the Walking Company). If my feet are sore I opt for a cute pair of ballet flats, and I always buy a 'good' pair of flip flops with arch support, etc. I recently discussed the importance of finding the right athletic shoes on my site: http://www.lost100.com Check it out!

    July 21, 2008 at 15:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. JJC

    I am one of those early 20 something females who refuse to give up fashion for comfort. I have already noticed pain in my arches, ankles and sometimes tops of my feet, but I refuse to listen to my body! I know I will regret this in 20 years... but some shoes are just too cute! I do wear flats and lower heeled shoes also, so I'm not totally torturing my feet... 🙂

    July 22, 2008 at 16:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. Marilyn

    I have been plagued by plantar faciitis for 9 months. Have done all the mandatory things suggested for a cure. However, when I wear good footwear with othodics I can get on fine for about three hours. The I am limping.
    But alas, I can wear heeled boots, heeled shoes and high heels when I go dancing and I am pain free with no residual affect!!!!!

    Where can I but high heeled sports shoes?

    August 3, 2008 at 01:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. WalkFit

    I've only been reading since the last few posts, but I am enjoying your views more and more. I'll be back for more and will be sure to subscribe!

    September 3, 2008 at 01:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. Riley Carter

    i love women with beautiful feet. they are cute and unique."`~

    June 28, 2010 at 01:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. Lillian King

    my Dance Shoes are made up of glass, i love transparent dancing shoes,~*

    October 7, 2010 at 14:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. Electric Griddle

    dance shoes that are shiny are the most cool stuff that you could possibly wear *;~

    December 12, 2010 at 13:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. Delena Paysen

    Trauma, disease and injuries are the most likely causes of foot pain. Poor biomechanical alignment and the type of footwear can also cause pain or discomfort. Shoes that fit tight or are tied too tightly can cause pain on the top of the foot. High heels can cause pain around the ball of your foot just below your toes.*-`'

    My current website http://www.healthfitnessbook.comdd

    June 20, 2013 at 23:41 | Report abuse | Reply
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    October 7, 2013 at 08:44 | Report abuse | Reply
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