shoes

If you’re a woman, you probably put style above comfort when it comes to choosing your shoes. Women are four to five times more likely than men to develop hammertoes and two to four times more likely to develop bunions, and podiatrists believe stylish feminine footwear is at least partially to blame. While you’re probably not surprised to learn that very high heels can cause lasting damage to your feet, ankles, legs, knees and back, you might be surprised to find that many other styles you thought were safe are not.

Stilettos

Many women wonder what causes hammertoes and how they can avoid them. Genetics can be to blame in some cases, but so can ill-fitting footwear.

Stilettos, with their excessively high heels and narrow toe boxes, can cause the tips of the toes to bend downward. That’s because stilettos don’t provide enough support for your heels, forcing you to take your entire body weight on your toes. Their height can simultaneously force the toes forward, cramming them into the front of the toe box.

In addition to hammertoes, very high heels can cause bunions and sciatica, and even shorten the fibers of the calf muscle and the Achilles tendon. If you wear high heels all day every day, you might find it becomes painful to flatten your feet. Doctors recommend varying the height of your heel throughout the day.

If you can’t resist heels, doctors recommend that you do daily exercises to help stretch out your calves and Achilles tendon. Stand facing the wall, place your palms flat on the wall and flex your calves up and down to push your pelvis toward the wall. Repeat this 20 times morning and night.

Mules

Whether flat or high-heeled, these backless shoes lack crucial heel support. Your toes are forced to grip the shoe to hold it in place. Foot cramps and heel cracks can result, and you’re more likely to fall. If the mules have high heels, all the problems of both types of shoe are compounded.

Sandals

Most sandals lack arch support, and their open design leaves the feet vulnerable to injury. Exposure to the open air could dry and crack the skin of your feet or contribute to the development of calluses. You could also suffer bruises or cuts. Sandals can even leave your feet vulnerable to bacterial and fungal infection.

While it’s fine to wear your flip-flops at the beach or pool, when you’re not on the water wear a pair of rubber-soled, close-toed shoes made from breathable cloth.

Pumps

Pumps are little bit lower than stilettos, so they’re generally more comfortable and not as hard on your feet, legs, ankles, knees and back. If you’re a looking for a stylish shoe that’s still somewhat practical, pumps are a good choice — although most podiatrists say wedge heels are the best choice, if you must wear a heel, because they provide the most stability and support.

However, it’s still not a great idea to wear these shoes all day, every day. Any shoe with a heel higher than about 1.5 inches (3.81 cm) can cause injury. Keep a flatter-heeled alternative handy so you can switch off at some point during the day. When shopping for pumps, make sure they fit properly — the widest part of the shoe should accommodate the ball of your foot.

Flats

With all the warnings you hear about the dangers of heels, it’s understandable to think flats are a safer alternative. In fact, no heel at all can be just as bad for your feet as too much heel. The perfect shoe is one with good arch support and a low heel. Again, choose breathable fabric and slip-resistant rubber soles. Make sure the shoe fits properly; the best way to find out your shoe size is to have your feet measured in the store.

You shouldn’t ever have to “break in” a new pair of shoes. Your shoes should fit comfortably the first time you put them on. If they don’t, you’re asking for trouble. Always walk around the store a little before you decide to buy a pair of shoes, to make sure they’re supportive, they don’t rub anywhere and that there’s plenty of room for your toes.

Choosing a pair of comfortable, supportive and stylish shoes can feel like a fool’s errand, especially if you’re a woman. But you don’t have to give up your favorite stylishpair of shoes entirely. Just make sure you put your foot health first. Take a break when your feet start to hurt, and stretch your calf muscles regularly.