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So, I have a character who has an interesting quirk: they cannot wear flat shoes or boots (i.e. where the heel is at the same level as the ball of the foot or approximately so, within 1.27cm or so) without risking pain/injury to their feet and legs. What sort of physiological trait or "defect" would cause this in an otherwise normal human being? Said trait can be heritable or idiosyncratic, but needs to be present from birth or young age, should not interfere with their ability to walk/run when suitably shod, and should not affect the appearance of their feet in any clearly noticeable way.

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  • $\begingroup$ Do their feet have to resemble human feet? For example, a claw that can't be flattened out would be a huge problem. $\endgroup$ – HDE 226868 Jan 12 '16 at 0:15
  • $\begingroup$ Are you saying they basically have to wear high-heels or something of that sort, but be so formed that they can run in it? $\endgroup$ – Mikey Jan 12 '16 at 0:21
  • $\begingroup$ @Mikey -- doesn't have to fit the definition of "high heels" -- but they do need to have their heel above their toe somewhat when properly shod in order to run/walk without injuring themselves. $\endgroup$ – Shalvenay Jan 12 '16 at 0:23
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It's a relatively common problem but possibly off-topic for world building

The real harm in high heals

Over time, wearing high heels can shorten the muscles in your calves and in your back, leading to pain and muscle spasms

The effect is that it's painful to walk in flats.

You could cause someone to be born with this, though it would normally be treated medically rather than through wearing stilettos.

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  • $\begingroup$ Exactly what I said in my answer: but with actual references. +1. $\endgroup$ – Joe Bloggs Jan 12 '16 at 11:13
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I'm not too hot on biology: but the first thing that comes to mind is a shortened Achilles tendon/tendon assembly in the ankle. This would lead to this person's natural foot position being a 'point', and wearing flat shoes would be intensely uncomfortable (ever tried pulling your foot up as hard as you can? Remember the stretch in your calf muscle?).

The issue here is that tendons and muscles change through use. Wearing flat shoes for a while (though unpleasant) would resolve this issue by literally stretching the appropriate parts of the body. If the physical defect also affected the strength/flexibility of the muscles and tendons, leading to severe damage if they were stretched, then this person would have to wear heels all the time. They would also completely cripple themselves the first time they turned an ankle...

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  • $\begingroup$ Hrm -- would a partial calcination of a shortened Achilles' tendon do it? $\endgroup$ – Shalvenay Jan 13 '16 at 1:08
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A claw-like foot. The hands and feet of people with ectrodactyly are often described as "claw-like" and may include only the thumb and one finger (usually either the little finger, ring finger, or a syndactyly of the two) with similar abnormalities of the feet.

enter image description here

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  • $\begingroup$ Doesn't fit the requirements of the question... $\endgroup$ – Shalvenay Jan 12 '16 at 0:31
  • $\begingroup$ @Shalvenay It's the only thing out there that is a "sort of physiological trait or "defect" would cause this in an otherwise normal human being." $\endgroup$ – Mikey Jan 12 '16 at 0:33
  • $\begingroup$ I seriously doubt that. $\endgroup$ – Shalvenay Jan 12 '16 at 0:34

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