Suffering for the sake of fashion is nothing new. Researchers in the United Kingdom have discovered new evidence that fashionable pointed shoes created a bunions epidemic in the late medieval period.
Pointed Shoe Fashion Is Linked To Bunions Surge
Researchers from the University of Cambridge examined 177 bones from cemeteries in and around Cambridge. A benevolent hospital, the grounds of a former Augustinian friary where clergy and wealthy donors were buried, a local parish graveyard for the working poor, and a rural burial place near a village were all included.
Researchers analyzed foot bones for the hump by the big toe that is the characteristic of hallux valgus, also known as bunions by millions of sufferers.
They discovered that people buried near the town center, especially in sites for wealthy people and clergy, were substantially more likely to develop bunions.
Bunions were found in just 3% of the rural cemetery, 10% of the parish graveyard, 23% of those on the hospital grounds, and 43% of those at the friary.
While just 6% of those interred between the 11th and 13th centuries had signs of bunions, 27% of those interred between the 14th and 15th centuries were plagued by the condition.
This is most likely due to a substantial change in shoe shape around the 14th century when it transitioned from a useful rounded toe box to a long pointy tip.
The 14th century saw the introduction of a plethora of new kinds of apparel and footwear in a wide range of textiles and colors. According to research co-author Piers Mitchell of Cambridge’s archaeology department, pointed long-toed shoes called poulaines were among these design trends.
They looked at the changes that happened between the high and late medieval times and recognized that the increase in hallux valgus throughout time had to be attributable to the introduction of these new footwear designs, according to Mitchell in a university news release.
Hallux valgus is a mild deformity in which the biggest toe gets inclined towards the second toe and a bony protrusion occurs on the inside of the foot near its base. Though heredity and muscular imbalance might predispose a person to bunions, the most prevalent modern cause is wearing tight-fitting boots and shoes.
In the 13th and 14th centuries, it became increasingly customary for persons in clerical orders in Britain to wear fashionable clothing, which caused worry among high-ranking church authorities, according to Mitchell.
The pointiness of shoes got so excessive in a late medieval culture that King Edward IV established a rule in 1463 restricting toe-point length to less than 2 inches within London.
The bulk of the remains having bunions in the research, 20 out of 31, were male.
Jenna Dittmar, the study’s lead author, discovered that skeletal remains with hallux valgus were more likely to display evidence of fractures that generally arise after a fall.
According to Dittmar, modern clinical research on individuals with hallux valgus has demonstrated that the deformity makes it difficult to balance and increases the risk of falls in elderly adults. This would account for the greater amount of mended damaged bones discovered in medieval skeletons with this disease.
The study was published in the International Journal of Paleopathology on June 10th.
According to Emma McConnachie, a spokesman for the College of Podiatry, some feet acquire bunions even without footwear, high heels increase pressure on the big toe joint, hastening the process.
According to her, a small toe box can put additional pressure on the toes and force them into a new form, similar to wearing a corset.
Bunions, according to McConnachie, cause the foot to function differently than it should. The Cambridge team’s findings show that these concerns have been prevalent for a long time, she says. It appears that 14th-century fashion choices imposed identical concerns with footwear as they are appearing in clinics now.