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Standing Up for Shoes That Give Your Feet a Hand

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By Howard Schneider
Tuesday, June 17, 2008; Page HE03

It was near the end of " Sex and the City," after the starlets had worn high heels in the snow, at the pool, to the beach, in the rain (is this sounding like Dr. Seuss?) and, of course, to bed. It was after the one who got pregnant went jogging and we were not allowed to see what she was wearing on her feet, and after the only visible shoes I remember spotting other than high heels had made their appearance (flats worn by an office intern and sneakers worn by two guys throwing rose petals during a photo shoot).

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That's when I started wondering: What are their feet going to look like in another 10 years, after being crammed down a drainpipe? Because those women look as if they've been stuck in heels since before they could walk, their little bronzed baby spikes forgotten in some horrible box of memories.

It made me wish Jack Valenti were still alive, so we could start a campaign against debilitating footwear in Hollywood and make it as taboo as smoking.

Probably it was not planned that way, but "SATC" coincided with what became the Year of Evil Shoes at the American College of Sports Medicine's recent annual meeting, at which two featured research studies discussed how different types of footwear -- flip-flops and high heels -- might adversely influence fitness.

There is a long trail of evidence on the problems caused by high heels, including bunions, deformities such as hammertoe, a shortening of the Achilles tendon and stress fractures. There are several other problems listed on the Mayo Clinic's Web site.

To that list, the ACSM conference added a new worry when Louisiana Tech University researchers noted that as people in high heels walk down stairs, the dynamics of their gait shift markedly from how they would descend barefoot or in low-heeled shoes. Force is transferred away from the heel (which normally carries the weight of the stride but in this case has little to balance on) and toward the toe.

How does that affect the rest of the foot and lower body? Would you want to be in an airplane that was landing nose first?

Flip-flops also came under scrutiny, with new research showing that they, too, alter the way people walk. People shorten and slow their stride and scrunch their toes in a way that increases the angle of the ankle as the foot goes through its gait.

Auburn University researcher and doctoral student Justin Shroyer said the departure point for his study was the sense that people wearing flip-flops for extended periods -- to work, for example -- experience lower leg pain. His research does not show what might cause that, but it does suggest that tooling around a city on half an inch of molded plastic might not be the best idea.

"The way we think about it is that anything that deviates from normal and you do it for a prolonged period of time, it may cause problems," Shroyer said.

After all, fitness is not just about the gym. We worry about the ergonomics of office seating and computer keyboards for a good reason: Small stresses can compound into major problems.

Why not pay the same attention to what's on our feet?


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