Save our soles
Victoria Beckham's shock comedown from sky-high heels to flip-flops has firmly focused attention on our feet. Deirdre Reynolds reports
Published 18/02/2010 | 05:00
They're the hottest fashion story of the last decade, but top docs here have warned girls to hang up their heels -- or pay the price just like Posh.
Stepping out in a series of atypically sensible shoes, Victoria Beckham seemed to have admitted defeat to her famously vertiginous footwear.
But new snaps of the mum-of-three (35) in flip-flops on an outing to Malibu revealed the reason for her style u-turn -- the bunions that have plagued her since the Spice Girls.
Years of stumbling around in skyscrapers of up to eight inches have taken their toll -- and now it could take painful surgery to undo the damage.
However, she's not alone.
As new research reveals that 80pc of women grin and bear the ugly side-effects of fashion, podiatrists are hoping the WAG's grossly gnarled feet will encourage girls to wise up to the hazards of heels.
"Chiropractors don't expect women to throw away their high heels," says Dr Attracta Farrell of the Chiropractors Association of Ireland.
"Heels make women feel taller, slimmer and more elegant. We simply want to urge women to take precautions to minimise the damage that can be caused."
Bunions, broken ankles, corns, shin splint, nerve damage and hammer toe are just some of the ailments she encounters at her Athenry clinic. And she says sky's-the-limit shoes are almost always the culprit.
"The detrimental effects of wearing high heels are endless. Not only are you likely to fall and sprain or break your ankle, they also alter your posture by pushing your back and hips out of alignment, increase pressure on the knee joint by up to 26pc and cause tightening of the Achilles tendon.
"I also see foot conditions like bunions (deformity of bone or tissue at base of big toe), hammer toe (deformity at middle joint of toe) and Morton's neuroma (enlarged nerve usually occurring between third and fourth toe) all the time."
Experts say heels can even damage the brain by constricting blood vessels and nerve supplies, causing headaches and impairing mental function.
The caveats come a little too late for Posh -- who once declared that she "can't concentrate in flats" and is happy to "suffer" in stilettos; she faces up to six weeks in a wheelchair if she goes ahead with surgery to slice off her bunions.
And despite podiatrists' pleas to limit wearing heels to special occasions, ordinary stylistas too are playing Russian roulette with their tootsies.
Research by health and beauty showcase The Vitality Show reveals that 65pc of women wear high heels for 40 hours a week at work -- 35pc of them in heels over five inches. And 73pc wear platforms upwards of five inches at least once a week for six hours.
Just 4pc choose kitten heels under three inches -- and even they can increase ankle pressure by 80pc say podiatrists.
More worryingly, 37pc of women even admitted they had knowingly crammed their feet in shoes that were too small because they were on sale.
Our hard-working hooves take us the equivalent of four-times around the world in a lifetime, so why do we put them through such torture?
"Women love the instant glamour you get from putting on a pair of high heels," says Karen Nason of Debenhams Ireland.
"Heels used to be 'occasion wear', but thanks to shows like Sex and the City they're now de rigueur for everyday."
Like Dancing on Ice presenter Holly Willoughby who boasted of keeping hers on during sex, 32pc of women said heels made them feel more sexy, confident and attractive to men according to a survey by the store. And nine out of 10 said they would "never" stop wearing heels.
Just as well, as this spring fashion continues to demand its followers to contort their feet into gravity-defying shoes such as Fendi six-inch platforms and Alexander McQueen five-inch boots.
"The trend for skyscraper heels is showing no sign of diminishing," adds Karen.
"Anyone buying the six-inch super-shoes must learn a new type of walk.
"Extreme high heels push out your bum and boobs and force your hips into a sexy swagger, so take short steps, place your weight on the ball of the foot and lean back into the heel."
But learning to walk all over again is the least of the measures girls will go to for fashionable feet.
Icky toe-shortening procedures and 'foot fillers' -- a collagen injection which plumps up the ball of the foot to make heels more bearable -- are two of the cosmetic treatments available.
Numbing the pain might work in the interim, but Dr Farrell says there's only one way to avoid high-heel hell.
"Reducing the amount of time spent in heels everyday is key," she says.
"Something as simple as keeping a pair of flats in your handbag for that 10-minute walk across town can make all the difference."
However, suddenly going flat may not thwart trouble afoot either.
"Sometimes switching to low heels can almost make the pain worse," says Gemma O'Grady of Biolaser, Galway.
"Flip-flops and pumps provide zero support or shock absorption to the feet, so the ankles, knees and hips bear the brunt. Avoid high heels and wear a well arch-supported shoe," she recommends.
Unless shoe-queen Carrie Bradshaw works the bare-foot look in Sex and the City 2, we can't see it catching on.