A pretty high-heeled shoe may complete your outfit, but wearing shoes that force your toes to bend toward each other (or down toward the ball of your foot) can result in a painful condition called hammer toe. This condition changes the underlying bone structure of each toe at the joint and can make walking very painful. Choosing the right shoes (and wearing the wrong ones judiciously!) can help to avoid developing this condition.
When shoe shopping, look for shoes with lots of room in the toe area and strong arch support.
You should also avoid shoes that are too narrow or perch you up on the very balls of your feet. This does not mean eliminating all types of high-heeled shoes forever. Look for shoes with heels that are no more than one and a half inches tall. Also look for shoes that are wider around the balls of the feet. Kitten heels with open toes are fashionable and provide potentially more support than those three-inch stilettos.
If you must wear three-inch stilettos, wear comfortable shoes until you get where you are going, then swap out. Give your feet plenty of rest when you can (remove the shoes when seated) and flex your toes when you take your shoes off to stretch them out and give them room. It is best to try on shoes in the morning for proper fit, but do keep in mind that feet tend to swell and are larger at the end of the day. In this case, keep a pair of comfortable shoes for the drive (or walk) home, and your feet will thank you.
There are plenty of orthotic insoles that can help provide arch support if you need it, from insoles that use gel to cushion the arch and heel to simple pads. A podiatrist can guide you, or you can try insoles on for size to see which offer the most comfort and support. Your regular doctor may be able to help you before you see a specialist, so if you are experiencing foot pain, don’t hesitate to ask for guidance.
If you do develop hammer toe, it is important to see a doctor.
He or she can determine if surgery is necessary or if you can manage with pads and supports. Wearing special shoes may help ameliorate the condition and prevent surgery, and there are also exercises that can help with hammer toe. Toe crunches work your arch and your toes much like an abdominal crunch would. Take your socks and shoes off and sit comfortably in a chair with your feet on the ground. Place a rolled up towel under the ball of the affected foot. Curl your toes down to grab the towel and squeeze. Release. Repeat this exercise ten times (or as many as you can, working up to ten). Tapping your toes also helps. Sit in the same position as before. Extend your big toe up and then tap the floor with the other toes. Reverse (big toe taps, other toes point up), and repeat ten times.
Even if surgery becomes necessary, modern surgical techniques shorten recovery times and offer better results. Continuing to exercise your feet and wearing proper footwear are advised after surgery. There are more choices now for supportive shoes, but it is important to choose carefully.
Your feet support you for your whole life and deserve proper care; go through your closet and see what changes you need to make!
Image by Robert S. Donovan via Flickr