High heels 'are to blame for flat feet'… but a cure may be a few steps away
The risk of flat feet is increased in women who spend more time standing up, according to researchers
It is a discovery that might leave high-heel fans feeling a little flat.
Sky-high shoes could be to blame for flat feet, according to a study.
Scientists claim that high heels are the reason women are more likely to develop the agonising condition than men – and say their risk is increased further if they spend a lot of time standing up.
But before you resign yourself to a lifetime of sensible footwear, the researchers also say they are close to finding a cure.
The scientists, from the University
of East Anglia, believe that flat feet come about when tendons in the
feet are weakened by proteins that occur naturally in the body.
This causes the arch of the foot to fall, which can lead to excruciating pain and difficulties walking.
And they say their discovery could
lead to the development of new drugs to combat these proteins, called
enzymes, and stop them weakening the tendons.
Around 3.5 per cent of the British population are thought to be affected by flat feet.
The condition is more common in women over 40, but it also runs in families and many sufferers are born with it.
Dr Graham Riley, who carried out the study, said that high heels did not properly support the feet, which caused the tendons to weaken. He also warned that women who wore heels were particularly at risk if they spent large chunks of the day standing up.
High heels alter posture and increase pressure on the ball of the foot. Repeated wear is already known to strain the hips, knees and thighs, as well as increasing the risk of conditions such as osteoarthritis, hammer toe, back problems, bunions and corns.
At the moment, flat feet can be treated by wearing insoles or supportive devices inside the shoe. In some cases, patients have surgery to reshape their feet.
Despite the breakthrough, the scientists say it will be at least a decade before drugs for the condition are available.
But they claim that in future treatments could be developed for other common conditions of the feet such as Achilles tendonitis, which causes heel pain.
Dr Riley, whose study is published in the Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases journal, added: ‘Our study may have important therapeutic implications since the altered enzyme activity could be a target for new drug therapies in the future.
‘We have shown that similar changes also take place in other painful tendon conditions such as Achilles tendonitis, so this advance may ultimately result in an effective alternative to surgery for many patients.’
Professor Alan Silman, medical director of Arthritis Research UK, said: ‘Foot problems are an important and not sufficiently recognised cause of pain and disability in the elderly.
‘Ageing changes to the supporting tendons contribute to these problems and this research represents a first step to successfully unravelling some of the complex biochemistry that regulates tendon disorders.’