The lowdown on high heels

EARING high heels makes women look and feel tall and in command, but the dangers can leave you disfigured.

Things such as swollen ankles and corns are just minor side effects compared with the real damage that can eat away at your health over the years.

"This is because feet bear all of the body's weight," says Ray Stuart, a podiatrist in Cape Town.

"Your whole body mass rests on your feet and the foot is then forced into a narrow, pointed toe box, compounding the irreversible damage that can take place."

Wearing high-heeled shoes is said to have invited new and strange health problems over the years.

"Patients who suffer from unexplainable depression and emotional conditions are often advised to kick their shoes off and relax, and this usually helps - so imagine what ditching your high heels can do for your health," he advises.

Doctors practising podiatric medicine cite high heels as being biomechanically and orthopedically unsound.

They blame high heels for knee and back problems and shortened calf muscles - as well as causing an awkward, unnatural gait.

"In time, high heels might cause enough changes in feet to impair their proper function," Stuart says.

Most women admit high heels make their feet hurt - but they stick it out to appear fashionable.

"They certainly make me look more professional, feminine and well groomed," says sales consultant and self-confessed shoe addict Pontsho Lerole.

"Since Boom Shaka made their debut appearance rocking in high heels, I've never been seen in running shoes or sneakers or anything less elegant. I'd rather die."

Lerole even admits to having suffered severe back pains ever since making her fashion pact.

"Sometimes I sleep with a water bottle on my back for weeks on end until the pain subsides but I will still never wear flats.

Stuart says this type of pain is called osteoarthritis.

"It is the most common form of arthritis and it is twice as common in women. I blame it on the use of heels."

Stuart says heels force the thigh muscles to work harder, putting extra strain on the knee joint and tendon that runs from the knee cap to the thigh bone. Compared with walking barefoot, high heels increase the pressure on the inside of the knee by 26percent. Over time, this increased pressure on the knee leads to osteoarthritis

According to the American Orthopaedic Foot and Ankle Society, people take an average of 10000 steps a day.

High heels shift the force of each of those steps so that the most pressure ends up on the ball of the foot and on the bones at the base of the toes.

If you wear flats, the entire foot would absorb this impact.

Stuart says among the ugly results of the continued use of high heels are: bunions, heel pain, toe deformities, shortened Achilles tendons and trapped nerves.

"Women account for about 90percent of operations each year for bunions, hammer toes, a permanent deformity of the toe joint in which the toe bends up slightly and then curls downward and trapped nerves, and most of these surgeries can be linked to high-heels."