Are High Heels Killing Your Feet?

The finishing touch to any outfit is usually a great pair of high heels, whether it be a sky-high pair of stilettos or a more modest pair of pumps. Most women can attest to the fact, however, that pain from wearing an uncomfortable pair of heels can start anywhere from an hour or two of wearing them and last days after (ie. the achy “high heel hangover”). Although we all know “beauty is pain”, what you might not realize is that aside from the occasional blister or callus that heels can cause, there is actual long-term damage being done every time you rock your favorite pair of high heels

In the past few years, the average height of a high-heeled shoe has gone from 3 to 5 inches! This has led to a sharp increase in women visiting their doctors with complaints of foot and toe pain, up 75% between 2005 and 2009 alone. Of the many foot problems high heels can cause, the most common are:

  • Metatarsalgia
    When wearing high heels, you transfer a lot of added weight and pressure to the front of your foot. Overtime, this can lead to pain and/or a burning sensation in the ball of your foot.
  • Hammertoes
    Excessively high heels or heels with a very narrow toe box (ie. your favorite pair of pointy-toed heels) forces your toes into a bent position. Over time, this will cause the muscles to shorten and lead to a hammertoe deformity.
  • Bunions
    Although recent studies prove that high heels may not directly cause bunions, they will aggravate any pre-existing bunion and make it much more painful.
  • Pump bumps
    When wearing heels made of a rigid material, a knot can develop on the back of your heel called a Haglund’s deformity (aka a “pump bump”). Repeated irritation of this bump can cause swelling, irritation, and painful bursitis.
  • Ankle Injuries
    The higher your heels, the more impaired your balance will be. Therefore, a heel-wearer is at a greater risk of falling, which could lead to sprained or broken ankles.

New studies are also showing that high heels are not only killing your feet, but also leading to many other problems, including chronic pain in your calves, knees, hips, and lower back. In fact, high heels are starting to be attributed to the rising epidemic of knee osteoarthritis in women within the past decade due to the added pressure they add to the knee joint.

So do you have to completely give up your heels forever? No (sigh of relief!), but there are many compromises you can make to help avoid developing any of these pesky problems. For starters, choose a more sensible heel with a height of under 2 inches, a wide toe box, and a wider/thicker heel. I love a nice, tall pair of stilettos as much as the next girl, but studies have found that these are the biggest culprits in accelerating all of the problems listed above due to the little support they offer.

In addition, try to alternate your shoes throughout the day. For example, if you know you’re going to be walking a good bit to get to your favorite restaurant during your lunch break, keep a pair of more supportive flats with you to wear on your trek instead. Wearing shoes that allow you to move more naturally when walking (especially longer distances) will allow your feet, legs, hips, and back to stretch and recoup from a long day of heel-abuse. This brings up one last remedy that may help to avoid long-term problems, make sure to stretch! After subjecting your body to a long day of high heels, it is important to stretch your calves (to avoid shortening of the calf muscles) and your feet, which can be done by alternating pointing and flexing your foot and/or trying to pick things up with your toes.

As a disclaimer, none of these methods are fool-proof and there’s no “one size fits all” method to completely avoiding the long-term problems high heels may cause. Therefore, let common sense be your guide! If you think your high heels have caused (or are even starting to cause) any of the problems above, your first line of defense is to schedule an appointment at Advanced Foot and Ankle Care Centers in one of their three middle-Tennessee locations in Nashville, Smyrna or Spring Hill.

Don’t let your shoe obsession cause long-term pain and weaken your ability to live an active life!