The recent ban by the Cannes Film Festival 2015 organisers on women wearing flat shoes on the red carpet garnered headlines around the world and fuelled furious hashtagged Twitter debate. An interview with Chief Podiatrist Michelle Champlin of Dubai Podiatry Centre helps put the record straight on the high heels hot topic.
Why all the fuss over the recent Cannes Film Festival ban on flat shoes?
We see a lot of patients in our clinic with foot related issues related to high heels, as Dubai is a very fashion forward city with a high percentage of women in the workforce wearing smart heels for work. Dubai has it’s own annual Film Festival and every week there seems to be a new film premiere, club or restaurant opening with high fashion footwear a must. High heels alter the position of all the joints in the feet, ankles, knees, hip, pelvis and spine compared to being barefoot.
The height of the heel will determine just how much the joints are moved. High heels throw your entire skeleton out of alignment, making you take shorter strides and rotating your hip, giving the characteristic Marilyn Monroe type wiggle. The debacle at Cannes seemed to be over the lack of choice for women – particularly the reported barring of an amputee wearing flat shoes and of course men being free to wear whatever shoes they want caused a real debate.
What can high heels do to your feet?
The body can cope with these varying range of motions but standing or walking for an extended time in this altered position can cause a range of health problems (and not just to your feet), including stress fractures in the bones (especially the metatarsals in your forefeet as your body weight is shifted forward), tendonitis, lower back pain, stress to the front of the knee joints and increased risk of ankle sprain, Morton’s Neuroma and increased risk of bunions due to the forefoot being squashed into a cramped toe box.
I recently wrote a blog on high heels and feet and you can read it here.
So are flat shoes the answer?
Flat shoes can lead to problems also. Thin soled, flat shoes such as ballet pumps or flip flops provide no cushioning or shock absorption and alter your walking pattern (gait). They can contribute to stress fractures of the metatarsal bones in the forefoot if worn for lots of activity, such as daily walking around the mall. If the shoe is slip on such as a ballet pump, the toes have to grip to keep the shoe on – this can lead to chaffing on the top of the toes, corns or bursas on the top and sides of the toes and splaying and widening of the forefoot. The heel can also become tender if the flat shoe has no support or cushioning, sometimes causing very painful conditions such as plantar fasciitis.
What’s your professional advice for the ladies at Cannes (and elsewhere) who need or want to wear high heels?
To reduce the risk of injury, find the most comfortable heel height for you. A smart court style shoe for work can be 35mm in heel height and for a higher heel height for work can be 55 mm. Dress shoes can be higher at a maximum of 85mm. This of course depends on your own comfort levels and ‘biomechanics’. Heel heights going above this to an extreme height of say 90 – 120mm will grossly affect the way that you walk and stand and this is when the foot and other joint / soft tissue and skin injuries start. In extremely high stilettoes, almost 100% of your body weight is being forced forward onto your forefoot, when barefoot the natural weight distribution is almost 50-50 between the front and heel.
What are your tips for choosing and wearing flat shoes?
If you like wearing flat shoes and love ballet pumps – look for ones that have elastic around the edging so that they can grip onto your foot better, reducing the risk of toe clawing. Alternate with a more spacious ballerina pump with a slight heel 1cm added and this will help your toes from clawing to keep the shoe on as much and will provide a little shock absorption to the heel. If the flat shoe is laced, strapped or buckled to your foot this is much better (e.g. a ‘mary-jane’ style). Damage from the wrong style or fit of shoe range from blisters in the immediate short term to corns and callous and toenail damage over time, on to bunions and collapsed arches in the longer term.
My key message is that the best shoe to wear for foot health is one that you think “If I had to run for my life would the shoe stay on and help me move very fast without slipping, getting an ankle sprain or falling out of my shoes?”
What other tips can you give women when buying shoes?
Wear the right shoe for the activity. The shoes you choose for attending the horse racing will not be the same ones you wear for say, flying in. If you know you’ll be doing a lot of walking, such as a few hours in the mall, wear a cushioned shoe with low heel that fastens to your foot (or better still a sports shoe). For a high fashion event, such as walking the red carpet, a high heel will be fine for a couple of hours – you could even switch into more comfortable shoes inside the event and for dancing.
Each shoe maker has their own ‘last’ that they make their particular shoe templates from. With the many different ethnic origins of feet come different foot shapes – no two feet are the same. We will not all find one brand comfortable. So once you find your favourite brand try to stay within that range and make sure you get your feet measured regularly – you may well be different sizes in different brands and try to find shoes that come in different width fittings.
Don’t feel shy to try on lots of shoes and styles – once you find your favourite brands that fit your foot correctly then you will be a customer for life. I have favourite different brands each for sandals, ballerina pumps, car shoes, court shoes, business pumps, dress shoes, sports shoes, and hiking boots. Shop around – and shop later in the day once your feet are at their largest.
Also, there are lots of accessories for your feet and shoes – a heel grip can be placed at the back of the heel of your smaller foot (rather than buying smaller shoes and making the larger foot pinch and blister and corns developing). Buy for your bigger foot always.
Pads that can be stuck to the ball of your foot to mimic the fatty padding so that you can stand comfortable for longer without the burning pain in your forefoot, particularly helpful for flat shoes. We provide lots of our patients with special moisturizing, protective silicone based toe sleeves for the 5th toes that mimic the body’s good fatty padding, preventing corns and callous to the 5th toes within shoes (just make sure they’re not ‘corn pads’ that have salicylic acid or anything else that ‘burns’ the skin). Little tricks to help shoes feel more comfortable! Of course, if you do experience any pain that will not go away or chronic issues such as corns, bursas or general foot pain, you should see your Podiatrist for expert footwear advice and to treat any foot injury or ailment.
To contact the foot experts at Dubai Podiatry Centre, call us on +971 4 3435390 for any range of foot, ankle or leg issue.