Experts debate dangers of wearing popular sheepskin boots

Ugg AustraliaUgg AustraliaDespite the fact that Uggs and their many knockoff incarnations have long been considered a "fashion don't," lots of women love and continue to wear these suede and sheepskin boots all winter long. They're warm, they're cozy, they're easy to throw on with any outfit, they feel like slippers, and they're a celebrity favorite. Of course this makes the boots very appealing and popular, especially during chillier months. But are they actually good for your feet? Experts say no.

In a recent Daily Mail article, professionals spoke out about the health risks of wearing cheap, imitation Ugg boots. Dr. Ian Drysdale, the head of the British College of Osteopathic Medicine, said, "Because these boots are warm and soft, young girls think they are giving their feet a break. In fact, they are literally breaking their feet." Drysdale continued, "Their feet are slipping around inside. With each step, the force falls towards the inside of the foot and the feet splay. This flattens the arch and makes it drop. The result can be significant problems with the foot, the ankle, and ultimately, the hip."

Does the Ugg boot, which retails for $140 and up, really provide more support than its more affordable imitators? Dr. Rock Positano, Director of the Non-surgical Foot and Ankle Service for the Hospital for Special Surgery, sees no difference. "Whether they are real Uggs or fake Uggs, we're dealing with footwear that offers no substantial and necessary orthopedic support for the foot and the ankle." He has many clients come to him with complications from wearing Uggs and pseudo-Uggs. Dr. Jim Christina, a podiatrist and the Director of Scientific Affairs for the American Podiatric Medical Association says, "The knockoffs that have essentially no support probably would be worse than your traditional Ugg boot, but Uggs are not a great supportive type of a footwear. They call them comfort footwear."

BearpawBearpawAs far as either the Uggs or their imitators breaking women's feet, Dr. Christina thinks that's an overstatement, but warns that some women have to be very careful. "Everybody's feet are different," says Dr. Christina. "Some people have very stable feet that aren't going to flatten very much, some people have high-arched feet that can actually benefit from something that is absorbent and cushioning, and then some people have feet that flatten excessively. When you get into the latter category, yes, those people should not be doing prolonged walking in any type of footwear that doesn't provide good support." Dr. Positano, however, is anti-Ugg across the board. "Whether you have a high arch, or a flat arch, inherently there are issues. You have the support issue under the foot, and the fact that there's no support around the ankle joint or the Achilles tendon," says Dr. Positano. And when it comes to affecting children, young ladies, or mature women, he insists, "This type of shoe does not discriminate."

While Dr. Christina stressed that those with a proclivity to flattening arches would be the ones affected by wearing these shoes, both doctors are in agreement that prolonged walking, standing, and activity in Ugg-like boots could lead to both temporary and long-term problems. "It may manifest as a pain in the arch, the heel, or in their lower legs-some of the muscles have to function differently because they have to compensate for the lack of support," says Dr. Christina. As the boots place stress on the muscles, tendons, ligaments, and bones, everyday use can cause long-term problems for wearers like bunions, hammertoes, arthritis, tendinitis, and issues with their Achilles tendon, knees, hips and lower back. "Most people don't develop the symptoms until the day after," says Dr. Positano. "When you're walking in them, they're comfortable." So should women stop wearing Uggs and Ugg knockoffs if they experience discomfort? "It's probably a prudent idea," says Dr. Positano, "because nine out of ten times these issues are caused by improper or inadequate foot and ankle support." Dr. Christina agrees that these types of aches and pains are a warning sign to stop wearing the boots and to look for something that provides more support.

They key is to use your sheepskin boots sparingly or when you know you won't be doing extensive walking or activity. Just as you shouldn't wear high heels for an extended period of walking or dancing, keep your Ugg boot wearing to a minimum. For casual wearers who are looking to reinforce their boots for safety, the doctors say that adding supportive insoles would be a great first step. [Daily Mail]