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High heels may lead to bunions (7/21/98)

After years of abuse from wearing high heels, Janet Ray's feet rebelled. They hurt so badly she could hardly walk. That's when she decided she couldn't put off going to the doctor any longer.

"Like other women, I wore high heels because they were fashionable," says Ray. "But I never thought I would pay such a high price for beauty." Ray had bunions, enlarged bones on the sides of the main joints of the big toes. Her condition was so severe she had to undergo surgery.

Dr. Lawrence Harkless, professor of orthopaedics and chief of podiatry residency training, says, "A large part of whether or not we develop bunions is heredity, but women push it by aggravating their feet with heels that are too high." High heels cause damage because they put women’s feet in an unnatural position and force the weight to the balls of the feet, he adds. "Seventy-five percent of my patients are women," says Dr. Harkless. "Men do not tend to punish their feet with uncomfortable shoes; however, men also have bunions. About 3 percent of all Americans, mostly women, have bunions. Of those, 7 percent are over the age of 65."

Treatment begins with specially fitted or prescription shoes and shoe inserts prescribed by a podiatrist. If the bunions are painful, medication for pain relief is prescribed. If the condition is severe, surgery (bunionectomy) is performed to remove the bunion and realign the big toe.

The point to remember is that bunions are preventable. "If a woman has to wear high heels, then I suggest she wear them for short intervals and not all day. I suggest keeping a pair of comfortable exercise shoes underneath the desk and slipping into them during times she won't be meeting with others." says Dr. Harkless.

Good foot care will carry us more than 115,000 miles, or three times around the world, says Dr. Harkless. Good care involves wearing comfortable shoes and socks that fit, washing and drying the feet thoroughly, keeping nails trimmed and keeping the foot skin smooth with lotion. Most importantly, if your feet hurt, see a podiatrist as soon as possible.

Contact: Myong Covert (210) 567-2570