If the shoe doesn't fit, foot pain may follow

By Brenda ShowalterThe Republic

The colorful high-heel, pointy-toe shoes with sparkles, sequins, rhinestones and skinny straps are stylish, sexy and a fun fashion accessory.

But what effect are they having on women's feet?

Dr. Michael Mull, a podiatrist for more than 25 years, estimates 90 percent of his patients' problems are due to wearing improper footwear.

The problem is not exclusive to young women in their teens and 20s wanting to look like "Sex in the City" stars.

"I've had women in their 80s here in my office with 3-inch pumps," Mull said.

Another big problem is women wearing the wrong size of shoe, thinking if they wore a size 7 at age 20, they still wear the same size at 50.

"As we get older, our feet get wider and longer," Mull said.

Problems are not limited to high heels, however.

Too many people buy ill-fitting shoes at department stores with no one assisting them with measurement or fit.

Mull sees some local factory workers who buy their required steel-toe shoes off a truck.

That worries him because the workers often stand on their feet for an eight-hour shift, and the shoes have no "give."

He said the belief that shoes need to be "broken in" is not true. They should fit properly and comfortably from the start.

Problems caused or aggravated by shoes can include bunions, hammertoes, blisters, calluses, corns, fallen arches, Achilles tendonitis, ingrown toenails, heel spurs and even knee and back aches.

Fixes range from buying new shoes to physical therapy, exercises and surgery.

"Foot discomfort can be greatly reduced or completely eliminated by purchasing properly fitting shoes," Mull said.

Although men and women have problems, women are nine times more likely to have certain types of foot problems.

When Jerri Chalfant of Columbus began having back problems several years ago, she bought a pair of Birkenstocks.

Although the shoes cost more than $100, her back problems improved and the shoes never wore out.

"I look at it as an investment," Chalfant said.

She is a regular shopper at Pampered Foot in Columbus, where she likes how owner Christie Crippen takes special care and patience to ensure she has a properly fitting shoe.

Physician referrals are responsible for many of Crippen's customers, including those who have worn too many high heels or have jobs where they stand all day.

Others have been diagnosed with foot problems and need a specialty shoe.

The brands Crippen carries, including Birkenstock, Finn and Noat, have arch and heel support and a wide toe area.

"A lot of what we do is education," Crippen said.

She explains how the front ball of a woman's foot endures significant pressure when wearing high heels and how toes can be damaged when squeezed into narrow, pointy-toe shoes.

Shoe technology and podiatry have advanced and can help women and men correct problems and learn more about the mechanics of the foot.

At the Athlete's Foot in Columbus, owners Amy Macy and Marty Arnett provide customized athletic shoe fittings with the help of a computer.

Customers walk across a mat that sends information about gait to a computer display.

The process can be especially helpful for those with an active lifestyle.

Mull said several factors enter into why people buy shoes, including style and price. He encourages his patients to also consider comfort and fit.

If the shoe feels too tight, too high or too stiff when trying it on, it could cause problems requiring treatment by a podiatrist someday.

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