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The Danger In Wearing High Heels

MIAMI (CBS4) -- They're everywhere! On the fashion runways, in the stores, on the streets--women and their high heels!

There's no doubt about it, women love to wear high heels. There's just something about them. They make us feel sexy. But unfortunately, the more time we spend in our heels can lead to time spent in this orthopedic boot, and these aren't too sexy!

"The number one cause of high heel problems is probably pain in the bottom of the foot," Dr. Kevin Berkowitz told CBS4's Lisa Petrillo.

Berkowitz, with Miami Beach Foot & Ankle Surgery, is now seeing women, mostly between 30 and 55, who've messed up the mechanics of their feet and ankles because they lived their lives in high heels.

"It's not just the height, it's the narrow nature of the heel now," explained Dr. Berkowitz. "The higher you go the more stretch there is to the ball of the foot. If you put your foot in that the ballet're just going to have compression and pain."

Berkowitz said it's simple: As a woman squeezes her foot into an unrealistically narrow toe box, with astronomical heights, the soft tissues such as ligaments and tendons begin to stretch and tear, even rupture, and the mechanics of the ankle are altered. After time, hammertoes and bunions occur. Even knee and back pain can often be attributed to high heels.

"At the end of the day it was like this pressure pounding like throbbing pain," said Maria Duenas, who has had to have foot surgery.

Duenas has been wearing high heels since she was a young teen because she said she wanted to be tall. The result? Bunion surgery two-and-a-half years ago.

Mabel Lezcano, 38, put her first pair of sky-high stilettos on at age 15.

"Really bad pain," Lezcano told Petrillo. "Especially to walk and do regular things."

"Did you have trouble buying new shoes because of the bunions," asked Petrillo.

"Oh, definitely," she responded.

Dr. Berkowitz operated on both women. He showed Petrillo Mabel's x-ray before surgery. It showed her foot deformed due to bunions and hammer toes.

"This is where the fifth metatarcil starts to splay outward and then the shoe puts pressure on both sides in addition to putting pressure on the toe," explained Berkowitz.

Then Berkowitz showed Petrillo Mabel's X-ray after her bunion was removed and hammertoe corrected. Although Berkowitz told us bunions are mostly genetic, he said they are exacerbated by the choice of shoes like today's super stilettos.

"My advice to women is don't wear your fabulous shoes to Publix," advised Berkowitz.

Another foot pain factor is the amount of time spent in high heels.

"If you're sitting at a desk with your heel on and you're working at a desk, that's not terrible. But if you're on your feet all day, running around doing things and then you're going to a function after work and you're in your heels eight to 12 hours a day over the course of time, your feet are going to suffer," insisted Berkowitz.

He advises women to change things up. Wear a two-inch pump one day and four-inch heels at night, flats or walking shoes the next day.

When Petrillo pulled a few of her own shoes out of a bag for his assessment, "The five-inch thin stiletto or five-inch wedge?" she asked Berkowitz.

"The better shoe is this shoe. The wedge wins all the time," he declared.

It took Mabel and Maria about six to 12 weeks of recovery before they were able to wear comfortable shoes, and about eight-months before they were back in heels again.

Petrillo asked Maria, "In the end was it worth it for you? Having the surgery? Wearing the heels? Going through the whole thing?"

"Oh yeah," responded Maria with a grin. "Yeah!"

"You're not saying to women don't wear high heels," Petrillo quizzed Berkowitz.

"No, I would never say that," he told her. "That's like telling a woman she doesn't look good in that dress!"

A tip for parents: Dr. Berkowitz says he does not recommend girls under 16 wear high heels for long periods of time at all. This is because their bones are still developing and forcing the toes into an abnormal position during these growth years will lead to foot problems later on, and at a much younger age.

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