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Fashion for pointy shoes unleashed jolt of bunions in medieval Britain

The British have suffered for their fashion for centuries according to a new study suggesting that a vogue for shoes with a pointed tip led to a sharp increase in hallux valgus of the big toe — often called bunions — in the late medieval period. Researchers investigating remains in Cambridge, UK, found that those…

The British have endured for their trend for centuries according to a new study suggesting that a trend for sneakers with a pointed tip led to a sharp rise in hallux valgus of the big toe — often called bunions — at the late medieval period.

Researchers exploring remains in Cambridge, UK, found that those buried at the town center, particularly in cyberspace for wealthier citizens and clergy, were much more likely to have had bunions — suggesting rich urbanites paid a higher price for their footwear in more ways than one.

A University of Cambridge team also found that older medieval people with hallux valgus were considerably more likely to have sustained a broken bone from a likely drop compared to those of a comparable age with regular feet.

Hallux valgus is a small deformity where the most significant toe gets angled out along with a bony protrusion strains at its base, on the inside of the foot.

While many factors can predispose someone to bunions, from genetics to muscular imbalance, by far the most frequent modern cause is constrictive boots and shoes. The problem is frequently associated with wearing high heels.

Archaeologists analysed 177 skeletons from cemeteries in the vicinity of the city of Cambridge and found that just 6% of individuals buried involving 11th and 13th centuries had evidence of the affliction. But 27percent of these dating in the 14th and 15th centuries were hobbled by longstanding hallux valgus.

Researchers point out the shoe style changed significantly through the 14th century: changing from a practical curved toe box to a lengthy and more tasteful pointed tip.

In a paper published today in the International Journal of Paleopathology, the team from Cambridge University’s After the Plague project argues that these”poulaine” shoes drove the rise of bunions in medieval Britain.

“The 14th century brought an abundance of new styles of dress and footwear in a wide range of fabrics and colours. Among these fashion trends were pointed long-toed shoes called poulaines,” said research co-author Dr Piers Mitchell from Cambridge’s Department of Archaeology.

“The remains of shoes excavated in places like London and Cambridge suggest that by the late 14th century almost every type of shoe was at least slightly pointed — a style common among both adults and children alike.”

“We investigated the changes that occurred between the high and late medieval periods, and realized that the increase in hallux valgus over time must have been due to the introduction of these new footwear styles,” explained Mitchell.

First author Dr Jenna Dittmar, who ran the work while in Cambridge, said:”We think of bunions as being a modern problem but this work shows it was actually one of the more common conditions to have affected medieval adults.”

The remains originated from four separate sites around Cambridge: a charitable hospital (now part of St John’s College); the gr

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