There’s been a renewed interest in cosmetic foot surgery lately. Several so-called “Cinderella” procedures have gained new popularity as women try to wear a myriad of narrow, high-heeled designer shoes.
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Women in the market for designer feet ask for procedures that slim or even remove the baby toe, remove fatty deposits in the tips of the toes, and shorten the second toe. Some women also ask for collagen injections in the ball of the foot to provide padding and make it easier to walk and stand in high heels.
What’s wrong with trying to redesign the feet in these ways? Your feet carry your full weight day in and day out, balancing you on 26 bones in each foot, 33 joints in each foot and ankle and many nerves and blood vessels. You need every one of your foot bones to maintain your balance, walk and run. Cutting into a foot that does not need surgery is a serious and potentially dangerous undertaking.
How serious? In addition to the risks that come with any surgery, including infection and problems with anesthesia, unnecessary cosmetic surgery can lead to permanent nerve damage, scarring and chronic foot pain. In addition, secondary deformities can occur from such surgery, creating a foot that becomes debilitated during normal activities.
Plus, women who surgically manipulate their feet so they can wear narrow, high-heeled shoes may be setting themselves up for more problems down the road. Wearing these shoes on a regular basis puts women at risk of developing new deformities such as bunions and deformed toes.
“The risks of cosmetic foot surgery far outweigh any benefits,” says Steven L. Haddad, MD, president of the American Orthopaedic Foot & Ankle Society. “We discourage patients with normal, fully functioning feet from trying to change their feet to fit a specific style of shoe. The shoe should fit the foot, not the other way around.”
When might surgery the right choice for your feet? If you have bunions, hammertoes or other conditions that cause chronic pain despite conservative treatments, your orthopaedic foot and ankle specialist will first recommend that you move into more giving footwear. In many cases pain can be resolved with shoes that more closely match the natural shape of the foot. Orthopaedic foot and ankle specialists generally will only recommend surgery if roomier shoes don’t relieve your pain.
So while some procedures, including surgeries to correct bunions and hammertoes, may be needed to restore function and mobility in some patients, unnecessary cosmetic foot surgery presents serious challenges, particularly those procedures that remove toes or shorten the bones of a toe. If you want to wear heels, limit their use to special occasions. For more tips on how to sensibly wear higher heels, visit the “How to Wear High Heels” page at FootCareMD.org, the patient education website of the AOFAS.