This Harvard Doctor Explains Why Wearing Heels Causes More Damage Than You Thought and How to Find the Right Shoes

Today’s women’s movement is impacting a broad range of issues, from the areas of work and family to health and wellness. Addressing women’s foot health is Dr. Casey Kerrigan, founder of Oesh, a collection of women’s-specific eco-friendly athleisure styles designed to fit a woman’s foot and lifestyle.

Dr. Kerrigan, who specializes in physical medicine and rehabilitation, designed the line based on two decades of analyzing women’s physiology. What she developed was a collection that addressed a woman’s unique foot shape, one that required a more spacious forefoot and narrower heel. In addition, the soles feature a gentle elastic spring, compressing when the foot is fully planted and releasing energy in tune with one’s natural movement to the next step.

The collection is available online and retails from $110 for athletic-inspired styles to $150 for clogs and sport sandals.

Here, Dr. Kerrigan talks about the most common women’s foot issues, her approach to wearing heels, and tips on summer foot health.

As a doctor and woman, what do you bring to a women’s-specific collection?

“In my case, I’ve had 20 years of peer-reviewed published biomechanical research of the effect of footwear on the body, with both a medicine and engineering (former University of Virginia professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering) background, along with hands-on manufacturing experience. All of this informs me how to make shoes that help avoid the foot and lower extremity problems I would probably otherwise face, given my gender. My experiences make me bold in eliminating features that have long been thought [necessary] for aesthetic purposes — e.g. removing a cradle running side-to-side in the forefoot region of the shoe to make the foot appear thinner. This is in addition to the obvious advantage a woman has in shoe design — trying on new shoe designs herself.”

Oesh Shoes Athena
Oesh Shoes Athena sport sandal.
CREDIT: Courtesy of brand

How do you reach young women about the importance of foot health?

“Being a mom of three daughters – ages 14, 19 and 21. They get it. My middle daughter is at Yale. The last time I [visited her], I was blown away by how many of her friends were wearing Oesh. I’m not sure if it’s the #MeToo movement, but they’re saying, it’s enough. We’re going to do what’s right for us. If this doctor’s saying this is the way [shoes should fit], we’re going to wear them. They’re interested in function and in health. Women with foot issues and pain who’ve been buying them, love them. They then get their daughters and their friends to wear them.”

What are among the most common foot problems women currently encounter?

“Morton’s neuromas, metatarsalgia, bunions, hammertoes.”

What do you consider the biggest change in women’s foot health over the past decade?

“We have a better appreciation for the role of the intrinsic foot core musculature in foot function and health.”

Is there place for heels in a woman’s shoe wardrobe?

“No. As the person who, while at Harvard, discovered that high heeled shoes increase joint torques that are associated with the development and progression of knee osteoarthritis, a debilitating medical condition twice as common in women than in men that causes more physical disability than any other disease in the elderly, it would be unconscionable for me to say anything else. Further, there’s no acceptable heel height I can recommend, given that my research has shown that any heel elevation increases joint impact associated with knee osteoarthritis. And, flat shoes can certainly be glamorous, too.”

Dr. Casey Kerrigan
Dr. Casey Kerrigan, founder of Oesh Shoes.
CREDIT: Courtesy of brand

What should women look for when shoe shopping?

“Shoes have to be comfortable and fit. You want to have good forefoot room. If you take a shoe and hold it [upside down] to the bottom of you foot, you can see [if] your forefoot extends outside the shoe. Also, a shoe that’s flat — not even a wedge. Even though it may feel comfortable, any heel elevation will abnormally increase the impact on the knee joints. You can feel the effect of that increased knee-joint torque. Ultimately, having that excessive impact over time is not a good thing.”

Do you have any tips to promote summer foot health?

“Pedicures. And, what’s really wonderful is having good air exposure. I’m a huge proponent of wearing sandals. That’s why we developed a sandal line.”

When is it necessary to wear an orthotic?

“I’m not a fan of one-size-fits-all [over the counter] orthotics, so I recommend having one custom-made by a podiatrist. Do you have foot or knee pain? If not, you may just need an arch support. Or, if it’s just to enhance comfort, you don’t need to ask a clinician.”

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