A recent conversation among friends about shoes and sensible shoe choices led me to spend some time speaking with Board Certified Podiatrist Dr. Lester Dennis about shoes and feet and how to take care of both of them.   Dr. Dennis is one of the top podiatrists in his field, and after spending time with him over the phone, his passion for what he does assured me that he doesn’t take issues of the feet lightly.

Okay, let’s cut to the chase and talk about heels and pointy-toed shoes.

It seems that whenever a woman puts on a pair of heels in the morning, especially a pair that also has a pointy toe, imaginary angels and devils appear on her shoulder.  The angel warns her of the damage being done to her body, and that she should choose a more sensible pair of shoes, while the devil on her other shoulder, wickedly urges her on to wear the evil shoes, reminding her just how great a pair of sexy heels can make her look.   As Dr. Dennis pointed out, and I agreed, women are more dictated to when it comes to picking shoes, and when it comes to comfort or style, a lot of women will sacrifice comfort for style.

Just how bad are heels to wear and should we avoid them all together?  Well to start, as we all won’t be surprised to hear, heels aren’t the best things for women to wear.  By wearing heels, we are putting our feet and our bodies into positions that aren’t natural.  Of course, the higher the heel, the more damage to the body.  Dr. Dennis pointed out an interesting visual to help me understand this.  He asked me to picture a hooker or prostitute wearing four-inch heels.   I know it sounds strange, but while visualizing this person walking down the street, he pointed out how when they walk in these staggeringly high heels, their rear-ends shake.

Assuring me that this wasn’t only prostitutes, but any woman who walks in very high heels will have excessive rear-end shaking while they walk.  This is because as you raise your heel, your arch gets higher so it can’t absorb pressure of your foot hitting the ground.  Your knees will also extend and lock.  What winds up happening is the shock that should be absorbed by your feet, knees and thighs travels up your back.  Excessive rear end movement when walking in heels is actually shock that would have been absorbed before it ended up in the lower back.  That isn’t good because in the end, because your back is now absorbing all the pressure.

Then I asked Dr. Dennis if women should just avoid heels all together.  He told me that a big mistake many women make is to go from very high heels to very flat shoes.  Doing that doing this can lead to a completely new set of problems.  If you wear high heels often, he suggests that instead of wearing flat shoes, choose a moderate heel like a ¾” heel.  When you wear a higher heel often, your Achilles tendon shrinks. Therefore, going from a very high heel to a flat shoe can cause pain in either the Achilles tendon, the back of knee or, in the heel because your Achilles tendon isn’t stretched out enough to handle such a flat shoe.  He recommends frequent stretching of the Achilles tendon to help, and he assures me again, we weren’t meant to walk in three-inch heels.

Pointy-toed shoes aren't all that bad for you, if you follow a few simple rules

Next I asked Dr. Dennis about pointy-toed shoes, my personal favorite.  Surprisingly, I found out that pointy-toed shoes are not that bad, as long as they follow a few simple rules.  Dr. Dennis told me when you put on a pair of pointy-toed-shoes, or any shoe for that matter, your big toe should technically be in the middle of the shoe.  Also the widest point of your foot should fall where the widest part of the shoe is.  As long as this is the case, pointy-toed-shoes aren’t that bad for you.  You also want to make sure that your foot is secure in your shoe, because when you walk, your foot wants to slide forward.   It is also very important to take care of your toenails especially if you wear pointy-toed-shoes, because this style can easily cause ingrown toenails.

Some other interesting facts about shoes…

I have often heard women say that the pair of shoes they are trying on will be more comfortable once they “break them in”.  So I asked Dr. Dennis about this and he told me that it’s not the shoes that are being broken in, it’s your feet, which will eventually get used to being in a new shape and more importantly, will get used to the pain.  He recommended to me that a shoe should always be comfortable from the start.

I also asked Dr. Dennis how long someone should keep a pair of sneakers.  He told me that an active runner who runs on the street should wear their sneakers no more than three months before repairing or replacing.

Here’s a fact I found to be very interesting: Dr. Dennis told me that 85% of right-handed people have a larger left foot, and vice versa, 85% of left-handed people have a larger right foot.  He went on to tell me that shoes are packaged with the right shoe on top.  There are a lot of women out there who only try on one shoe to decide if they want them or not.  Dr. Dennis suggests that if you are right-handed, you should be certain to try on the left shoe, because in most cases, that will be your larger foot.  Fascinating!

Dr. Dennis also suggests that should buy shoes from mid-day to later in the day, because women retain more fluid, and by the end of day we are more swollen.  He also recommends that we walk around in the store to be certain the shoes fit.

Additionally, I was told by Dr. Dennis  that when we walk, we put three times our body weight in pressure on our feet.   That’s a heap of weight no matter what size you are.

Here are some more quick tips from Dr. Dennis

  • Change your shoes every day.  Shoes get sweaty and smelly and bacteria grow.  Let shoes air dry and avoid plastic boxes without air holes.
  • Rolling your foot on a tennis ball can relax an arch of the foot
  • Cream feet, choose a good moisturizing cream after showering, a pumice heel will remove skin.  If your skin is really dry, UREA creams up to 12% strength are available over the counter.  Some brands are Amilactin12, Carmol 12, Lactinol 12.  Anything greater than 12% needs a prescription.
  • Most people don’t dry between their after showering, which can cause yeast infections to happen.  If you struggle with constant fungal problems, buy cheap thin 100% cotton socks, cut off the toe part and put over your toes before you put on your stockings.  Stockings, Dr. Dennis reminded me, are nylon and do not breathe.  When you stick your foot into a warm, dark shoe, you are giving your feet a wonderful opportunity to develop fungal problems.  He feels that the sock suggestion is a way for people with frequent fungal problems to keep infections at bay. He also urged those with frequent fungal problems to see a doctor, as it may be a sign of diabetes.
  • If you have corns, you want to make sure the shoe you choose has a high enough toe box.  Leather will stretch and you can bring a shoe to the shoemaker so they can stretch the shoe box for you.
  • Many people struggle with a narrow heel and a wider front foot, the heel can be shrunk.  A shoemaker has a heating tool that can do this. Heat shrinks the leather.  Or you can also choose heel grippers for inside the shoe so your foot doesn’t slip.


Now for some scary facts

The day after speaking with Dr. Dennis, I had planned to get a pedicure.  That was, of course, until I actually spoke with him and got the cold, hard facts about the dangers of the manicure/pedicure.

Dr. Dennis told me that many of the quick, cheap nail salons do not have qualified people performing pedicures and manicures.  He warned me about the risks of using the tools supplied by the salon and urged that all women buy their own tools.  He also said that we should even bring our own nail polish and never use the nail polish supplied by the salon.  We should also be certain that the manicurist/pedicurist cleans his or her workspace with a disinfectant before seeing you.  You should NEVER allow anyone to cut the sides of your nails or your cuticles, and if they are cutting your nails, they should always be cut straight across.  Dr. Dennis told me that the most common infection we give ourselves is an ingrown toenail.

And that isn’t the worst that Dr. Dennis has seen either.  In his career he has performed four amputations on women’s feet from infected pedicures and we aren’t just speaking about an annoying fungal infection.  Every time we get into that chair for a pedicure, we are risking getting hepatitis or incredible infection that can lead to the loss of a limb.

So after speaking with Dr. Dennis I decided I would not get another manicure or pedicure until I purchase my own tools.   To care for your own tools, you can simply sterilize them in boiling water.

In the end, Dr. Dennis showed me just how important foot care and proper shoe wear are.  After all, we all have a lot we want to accomplish in our lives, and without our feet in top condition, our chances of getting there are much harder.

Podiatrist Dr. Lester Dennis is a Board Certified foot and ankle surgeon who works at New York Hospital and Flushing Hospital Medical Center in Queens and New York United Hospital in Westchester, NY, where he is also on-site residency director.