By Kristen Marvin, Yoga Tune Up Teacher
(Lady Gaga won’t want to read this one…but she probably should.)
One of my clients in her 20s complained about cramping and pain around her right big toe. I asked her a few questions and found out she just started working (1 month ago) at her first professional job wearing high heels every day. Whether she wanted to hear it or not, I told her right away that high heels are detrimental to her health!
The truth is, toes are one of many amazing features of the body that are sadly overlooked, misused and abused.
Most of our toe problems occur from wearing improper shoes (high heels, too small, excessively cushioned, too narrow, blister prone) and not stretching and strengthening the toes. Over the past few decades it has been the goal of manufacturing companies to make shoes for fashion and/or for comfort, focusing on aesthetics for the former and support for the latter.
Unfortunately neither of these shoe forms provides a solid foundation for the feet and toes. Why? In regards to high heels, your feet are in a more plantarflexed position, putting an extreme amount of pressure on your toe joints and most specifically on your big toe joint. This can create hammer toe, bunions, and osteoarthritis in your toe(s). Pain and injury can even run up to knee, hip and back muscles and joints, affecting your overall posture.
Comfort shoes, on the other hand, cause a different kind of problem. Comfort shoes conform around your arch providing extra support at a serious cost. The added support actually weakens the feet (consequently the toes) inhibiting them to do the job they were born to do! You have all these wonderful muscles and bones in your body to perform a certain function and shoes are taking these powers away from them.
Back to my client, I told her that she was overworking her flexor hallucis brevis, the muscle that flexes the big toe. It is a muscle that runs underneath the middle of your foot to the start of your big toe. When you are wearing heels, your feet are continuously plantarflexed, causing the FHB to be constantly contracted. Constantly contracting your FHB can lead to cramping, which is a misfiring of the muscle neuron complex, making muscles contract even more. In other words, she was cramping because she was overtaxing her flexor hallucis brevis. In addition, the pain she was feeling on her right big toe was the sheer force of each footstep on the toes and the pressure the shoe placed directly on the big toe joint. Ouch.
Bottom line: Fancy shoes are pretty to look at, but they can produce some unpretty aches and pains. To heel or not to heel? That is the toe-nnoying question. Luckily, walking barefoot when possible and practicing yoga may counteract the negative of high heel wearing.
When was the last time you played with your toes?
By happy chance, Yoga Tune Up has a colorful array of exercises for your FHB that will tickle your fancy on the 5 Minute Quickfix for Feet and Ankles, definitely worth the five minutes and it’s free.
More toe-tingling videos below. If only we did these exercises as many hours as we wore unsensible shoes.
Kristen Marvin has her BSc in Exercise Science, MA in Sport Psychology and BEd in physical education, sciences and French. She has always been interested in all forms of body work (mental, emotional and physical), injury prevention, maintenance and strengthening exercises to have the best possible body and mind for performance. After being introduced to Yoga Tune Up she immediately fell in love with it. Kristin would like to help people get to know their bodies better so they can live a healthier, more active lifestyle.
It’s really sort of perverse how fashionable shoes mangle women’s feet. It’s sort of a modern form of self-inflicted foot binding. Similar to high-heels, ballet and dance can cause real damage as well. I had an ex- who suffered a lot due to bunions from ballet slippers and toe-pointing.
Humans have really fancy and specialized appendages because we’re bipedal and never walk on our hands (except in yoga!). I think a lot of people don’t realize human feet are about twice as complicated as our hands, and easily the most complicated in the animal kingdom.
I’m a big fan of the minimalist footwear movement and running in a fore-foot landing style. I used to suffer from wearing orthotics and arch-supporting shoes that gave me weak, flat feet and shin-splints and sore knees whenever I ran. I’ve corrected that, but it’s taken a long time to build up the connective tissue in my feet. Now my stride is silent and the knee troubles and compartment syndrome in my shins is gone.
Even I can’t get away with going sockless at work though. Vivobarefoot sells some dressy-looking minimalist shoes that are suitable for workplace attire.
(Although it seems they have a much better selection of ‘lifestyle’ shoes for men than for women, which is kind-of funny.)
Definately Not to heal! Although not all heals are created alike. Its not very attractive when a woman can hardly walk in her high heals. Function over form any day!
Is this vanity over sanity? Thanks Yogadork shoes can kill…. Well screw you up..
This article is really interesting and a wakeup call for me. I am short and love my high heels, but I don’t want to end up damaging my feet later in life. What kinds of shoes are best if high heels and super-cushioned shoes are both bad?
This is definitely a good remider. Like Colleen, I’m wondering what shoes are best and what qualifies as too-cushion-y/too much arch support.
Oh man, I am so glad you added that little bit at the end out walking around barefoot and yoga. I love shoes, heals in particular, and while I know they are bad I can’t totally give them up. Fortunalty, I’m always barefoot at home and practice yoga regularly. Yay toes!
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Reminds me of the thong discussion. You either get it or you don’t.
Women who wear thongs, and high heels, and love the way they feel every moment they have them on are sexy as hell. Lengthened legs are visually appealing. An exposed behind when the skirt goes up is erotic.
Women who don’t get it never will.
Toe stretches work great whether you are in heels or Vibram Five Fingers, BTW.