Suzanne Levine, DPM, is, to put it mildly, obsessed with footwear. The doctor estimates that she has over 300 pairs of shoes: a collection that does not discriminate, she's proud to note. “I love everyone’s shoes,” she muses. “My go-to pairs might be a Michael Kors boot for daytime, or a Gucci heel when I’m going out, and I love Prada and Louboutins, even though those can sometimes be a foot challenge.” Her favorite, though, is Manolo Blahnik: “You’ll always find me at the sample sale. I was run over by a woman one year! But, it’s worth it.” It would be easy to assume that Dr. Levine has something of a vanity complex when it comes to footwear. However, you’d be (mostly) mistaken: She is the premier podiatrist in New York City, if not the entire country. Good shoes, then, are not just her passion — they’re her business. “My calling in life is to keep women wearing their best shoes,” Dr. Levine tells us. She does so via her Upper East Side practice, Institute Beauté. “Here, I have more than one million dollars worth of equipment, like my brand-new anti-fungal laser that takes care of infections with one treatment as opposed to three, with no pain. I did a lot of alternative treatments before the phrase ‘alternative therapy’ was ever even mentioned in medicine. I get a lot of controversy, but I don’t care, so long as my patients are happy.”
In the mid-aughts, Dr. Levine became the subject of much media frenzy thanks to a procedure called the Loub Job, which she developed in response to many women suffering from “stiletto metatarsalgia,” or toe pain from wearing heels. “This is a hyaluronic-acid filler called Synvisc that lubricates the joints in your toes,” she explains. Previously, Synvisc was traditionally used for sports-related injuries in other joints, like the shoulders or knees. Dr. Levine applied that methodology to the feet. “I do it under a fluoroscope, which is almost like an X-ray unit. It shows me the joints, so I can go in there and inject the material exactly where it needs to go." The treatment can help some patients avoid joint surgery altogether by preventing pain from turning into something more serious, like a bunion. (Bunionectomies can require the doctor to surgically fracture the bone in order to put it back in its rightful position.) Dr. Levine also developed a procedure called Pillows for Your Feet. “Many women have high, arched feet, so when they wear flats, they have pain in their arch area,” she says. “Pillows for Your Feet is cushioning, thanks to an ingredient called polylactic acid. It’s a biodegradable material that’s not dangerous — plus, it builds up collagen in the area where it’s applied.” She does an ultrasound, and uses the image to see what part of the foot she should fill. “It cushions what nature’s taken away,” she says. (She also speculates that this is what’s being used to plump the butts of some of Hollywood's elites.) It’s most likely not a coincidence that it took a woman in the field of podiatry to come up with solutions for painful high heels. But, Dr. Levine wasn’t always the Manolo-lover she is today: “I started out as a physical therapist, working a lot with athletes, specifically joggers,” she says. (Hence, her advanced knowledge of sports-injury treatments.) “That’s when I realized that the feet take the greatest amount of pounding and injury." She's also helped many amputees, mostly veterans, learn to walk again. “That work was so important to me. That taught me how important the foot was on a deeper level — just think about the expressions related to our feet! 'Best foot forward,' 'feeling grounded,' 'getting back on your feet…'” After realizing that, she went back to medical school and became a proper podiatrist. Now, she’s at the helm of an elite practice in a very competitive city (naturally, she doesn't accept insurance). And, in case you were wondering, she wears heels during all of her surgeries. Most of her clients, of course, are well-heeled types, which is what keeps business booming. “During the era of Louboutin, women would end up with lateral ankle sprains because...wearing [platforms] was putting less pressure on the balls of their feet, and they’d end up with...sprains and shin splints, and more foot breakdown,” she says. “Most of my patients are women who wear five-inch heels — they’re well-known editors or very famous celebrities.” One of her clients came in with serious foot pain after enduring an entire awards show — plus two hours waiting for her car at the end of the night — in stilettos. “What does she do? Put on a pair of sensible shoes with the paparazzi around?”
It seems counterintuitive, though, to give women expensive medical procedures just so they can go back to wearing the shoes that caused them pain in the first place. But, Dr. Levine insists, it’s not that simple. “This is not about helping women fit into shoes that will cause them harm. It’s about making them comfortable and feeling their best — it’s hard to look good in an orthopedic shoe. I couldn’t imagine doing that...it would make me feel so much older than I am.” Shoes, for many women, are not just a part of the outfit — they are the outfit. Dr. Levine says her shorter clients feel like they need to live in high heels. You know that expression, "You can tell a gentleman by his shoes?" Obviously, this adage resonates with many a lady. Making women feel comfortable in high heels is only part of the job, though. Dr. Levine also sees athletes who have worn their running shoes into the ground and ballerinas who've put too much stress on their feet. Her work is to get them back in the game — allowing their feet to perform at their best ability. Occasionally, there’s the opportunity to help beyond the medical call of duty. “I had this woman who had a history of very challenged feet — stress fractures and ligament injuries. But, she came to me because she insisted on running the marathon," Dr. Levine recalls. "She looked like she had this incredible life — recently remarried, three beautiful children, a new home, her own business. But, when I saw her feet, I saw her pain.” After one procedure, the woman began crying intensely. The doctor sensed it had little to do with the surgery. “I realized, after a while, that she had an abusive husband, and she felt that if she could finish that marathon, she could leave him. And, I wanted to do anything I could to help her get back on her feet.” (For the record, she did exactly that.)
Luckily, there’s hope for those of us who can’t afford a no-insurance-accepted doctor. On the recently launched Pillows for Your Feet site, Dr. Levine sells cushions you can insert into your shoes, and Stiletto RX, a numbing spray that helps relieve pain when you get to that point in the night when you just can’t bear it anymore. "Most young people don’t think much about their feet,” she cautions. “I’m here to say that you should treat your feet just like you would your face." If these are the doctor's orders, we can't think of a better excuse to go shoe-shopping.
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