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High Heels Today, Foot Pain Tomorrow

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Updated: 3/19 3:47 pm

Sept. 29, 2009 -- Wearing high heels today may hurt just a little, but even bigger foot pain may be in store later on.

A new study shows that people who make poor shoe choices early in life by wearing unsupportive footwear like high heels, sandals, and slippers are much more likely to suffer from foot pain in later years.

The study showed that men don’t experience the same type of foot pain as women, largely because of the type of shoes men wear. Researchers say the findings may help explain why women are much more likely than men to have foot pain.

Foot and toe pain are among the top 20 reasons adults aged 65-74 visit their physician, but researchers say relatively little is known about the causes of foot pain in older adults. Previous studies on footwear and foot pain have been small or based on people with a particular disease.

Causes of Foot Pain

In this study, published in Arthritis Care & Research, researchers examined the effects of footwear choices early in life on foot pain later in life in a group of 3,378 adults who participated in the Framingham Foot Study.

The participants were asked if they had pain, aching, or stiffness in one or both feet. They also provided information on the types of shoes they wore during the following age groups: 20-29, 30-44, 45-64, 65-74, and 75+.

Shoes were classified into three groups:

  • Good: low-risk shoes, such as athletic and casual sneakers
  • Average: mid-risk shoes, like hard- or rubber-soled shoes, special shoes, and work boots
  • Poor: high-risk footwear that don’t have support or structure, such as high heels, sandals, and slippers

The results showed that 19% of men and 29% of women had generalized foot pain on most days.

Women who wore good shoes in the past were 67% less likely to report hindfoot pain than those who wore average shoes.

“While more research is needed, young women should make careful choices regarding their shoe type to avoid hindfoot pain later in life, or perform stretching exercises to alleviate the effect of high heels on foot pain,” write researcher Alyssa B. Dufour, of the Boston University School of Public Health, and colleagues. 

Researchers found no link between foot pain and shoe choice among men, largely because less than 2% wore bad shoes.

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