Agonizingly beautiful: Wearing heels that are too high and jeans that are too tight are just two of the fashion statements that can lead to health problems down the road, experts say.

Suppressing a scowl and the urge to launch those insufferable stilettos through a nearby window, you hear your mother’s voice in your ear.

“Beauty is pain,” she reminds you.

Fueled by societal standards and a powerful biological urge to attract, women endure grueling conditions to acquire allure and beauty.

Though bound feet, cinched corsets and lead makeup went the way of the powdered wig (phew!), many contemporary beauty trends are just as dangerous to women’s physical health.

“I think footwear is one of the worst things we do to women,” says Dr. Anthony Hedley, an orthopedic surgeon at St. Luke’s Medical Center in Phoenix. “Women’s feet, by and large, get an absolute hammering throughout their lives.”

The usual culprits? Tall, thin, pointy shoes.

High heels place a high volume of impact on a small area of bones, instead of distributing the weight evenly over all 26 bones in the human foot. With each step, sky-high heels add about 25 percent more impact on hip and knee joints and double the stress on the muscles supporting the spine. If you feel hip and hamstring pain or discomfort, you can check Health Report Live for solutions.

Towering heels can lead to chronic over-stretching of the plantar fascia, shortening of the Achilles tendon, and other painful or unsightly foot conditions, Hedley says.

“High heels cause a number of things detrimental to the feet in the log run: drifting of the metatarsals, hammertoes, Haglund’s deformity, bunions, Achilles tendonitis,” Hedley says. “When the feet are ridiculously high, posture is thrown out so badly that it causes back, hip and shoulder pain.”

Several of these chronic conditions deform the foot, making it difficult to wear any shoe at all, whether stiff and chic or drab but comfortable.

To avoid limping down the road, orthopedic experts recommend keeping your everyday heels less than 2.5 inches.

Skinny jeans, high heels’ trendy cohort, should also be worn with caution.

Doctors are noting a rise in the number of patients reporting unconventional leg pain. Increasingly, pant size is to blame.

“Skin-tight jeans can cause vascular obstructions, and you don’t want your nerves constricted,” says Hedley.

Over time, when pressure cuts off the femoral nerve, one can develop burning or numbness as a permanent condition. Other significant and undesirable side effects of skinny jeans are blood clots, muscle pain and urinary track infections, Hedley says.

To dodge a trip to the doctor’s, avoid trendy jeans so skinny you have to lie down to zip up.

Another spring must-have that is becoming a painful problem for fashionistas is the oversized handbag, a fashionable way to tote laptops, diapers, water bottles — you name it.

But before you splurge on a jumbo-sized purse to carry every tool of the trade, consider the risks of having it all.

The American Chiropractic Association recommends carrying no more than 10 percent of your body weight in your purse or bag. Even just basic essentials — commuting shoes, reading/writing material, coat, snack and a laptop — can quickly add up.

Every extra pound of weight you carry is amplified six times across the knee joint, says Denise McGinley, director at the Center for Orthopedic Innovation at St. Luke’s Medical Center. Heavy, extra-large shoulder bags can cause neck pain, muscle inflammation, and, in serious cases, “dropped” shoulders and acute episodes of muscle spasms.

If you need to lug cargo amassing more than 10 percent of your body weight, invest in a rolling carryall, since pack mules are so 2011.

“Don’t let fashion mislead you and make you the victim, because some of the results are irreparable and avoidable,” Hedley says. “You can be fashionable without being foolish.”


Scottsdale Living Magazine Spring 2012