Are high heels bad for your feet? Most people get it, understanding that heels aren’t the healthiest choice when it comes to footwear. Still, many love them regardless, since they make your legs look longer and even sometimes thinner. The trouble is if you’re not being diligent about proper strengthening and stretching to mitigate high heel damage, you could be setting yourself up for high levels of pain.
High heels throw the natural mechanics of your body into a state of utter dysfunction. Starting in the foot, chronic heel use can actually impact just about every part of your body. (Eventually, your high heel habit can actually trigger pain all the way up in your neck.) British researchers found wearing high heels regularly over the course of a person’s life can actually shorten calf muscles by 13 percent. Beyond that, wearing heels seems to thicken your Achilles tendon, a potential pitfall for runners. And this is an important point: chronic high heel wearers actually experience discomfort and pain even after they take the heels off. (1)
In 2015, University of Alabama at Birmingham published some startling statistics related to high heel injuries. High heels sent an estimated 123,355 women to ER departments between 2002 and 2012. After crunching the numbers, that means about 7.32 per 100,000 women suffer injuries so severe hospital-level treatment is required.
Young women between the ages of 20 and 29 were most likely to suffer injuries, but women 30 to 39 years old also faced significant risk. And chances are more people may be asking the question, “Are high heels bad for your feet” today than they did several decades ago — high heel-related injuries nearly doubled during the 11-year study period. (2)
The answer to,”Are high heels bad for your feet?” is becoming pretty clear, but the impacts span far beyond your feet.
Are High Heels Bad for Your Feet?
Sprains & Strains
Wearing high heels could leave you Googling for sprained ankle treatments and beyond. When University of Alabama at Birmingham researchers scoured ER records related to high heels, they found foot and ankle sprains and strains ranked among the most common injuries. (3) One study found that wearing high heels of about 3.5 inches compared to lower, half-inch heels changes your ankle mechanics in a way that significantly increases the risk of a lateral ankle sprain. (4)
Wearing high heels is also a leading cause of ingrown toenail problems. High heels create chronic pressure on the big toenails, leading to dysfunctional toenail growth. Also known as onychocryptosis, an ingrown toenail is the result of the toes compressing together. This leads to the big toenails growing into the skin. Unpleasant, I know. People with type 2 diabetes should be particularly careful about wearing high heels, since it can further restrict circulation in the feet. (5)
Low Back Pain
Wearing high heeled shoes throw your normal gait into a dysfunctional state. In 2012, scientists from Poland showed heels cause your lumbar erector spinae back muscle to excessively fire, leading to muscle overuse and lower back pain issues. Wearing high heels throws off the normal lower pelvic range of motion. This means wearing high heeled shoes actually throws off your entire body’s posture. (6)
A bunion is a common problem that pops up in people who wear heels regularly. At first you might not think your bunion is any big deal, but when left untreated, bunions can cause serious scar tissue to form in the foot, toe abnormalities and a whole lot of pain.
So what it is? It’s that bony bump that sticks out at the base of your big toe. It forms when the bone or tissue located at the joint shifts out of place. Years of wearing narrow, high heels creates abnormal pressure and can cause that bony joint to appear.
Major Posture Problems
Wearing high heels during adolescent years could be the most damaging during. Wearing high heels can cause permanent postural disorders, including: (7)
- Forward head posture
- Lumbar hyperlordosis
- Pelvic anteversion
- Knee valgus
Women are 8 to 10 times more likely to develop Morton’s neuroma, a condition characterized by swelling, thickening or enlargement of the nerve between toe bones. The most common spot for Morton’s neuroma is between the third and fourth toes, but it can occur between second and third toes, too. Also known as intermetatarsal neuroma, a chronically squeezed nerve can lead to sharp, burning or shooting pains. Wearing heels higher than 2 inches causes unnatural pressure in the balls of the feet, increasing a person’s risk. (8)
Are High Heels Bad for Your Feet? Yes (Here’s How to Help Reverse Some of the Damage)
Ideally, ditching high heels for good would be best. But I understand that so many people feel confident in heels, so if you wear them, just take some precautions.
- Avoid wearing high heels every day.
- Avoid standing or walking long periods in heels. (Wear sneakers and switch into heels if you are walking to your destination.)
- If you do wear high heels, avoid ones that are narrow and tight-pointed.
- Rodney Stuck, DPM, professor of podiatry medicine at Loyola University Health System, suggests cutting out a cardboard tracing of each foot and attempting to place it in the shoe when shopping for a new pair. If it does not fit, then the shoes are too narrow.
- Trim toenails straight across the top to help prevent ingrown toenails.
- Put your feet in a warm epsom salt soak soak at the end of the day.
- Stretch your calf muscles routinely to avoid chronic shortening of muscles in this region of your leg.
Final Thoughts on the Question: Are High Heels Bad for Your Feet?
- Wearing high heels can cause pain and damage throughout your body.
- Common problems associated with wearing high heels include bunions, ankle sprains, muscle imbalances, lower back pain, neck pain, sprains and strains, foot pain and ingrown toenails, among other problems.
- If you do wear heels, opt for lower heels and ones without narrow, pointed toes.
- Clip your toenails straight across.
- Soap your feet in warm water with epsom salt at night.
- Stretch your calves regularly, holding each stretch for at least 30 seconds. For even bigger benefits, foam roll the calves before stretching. (Be sure to keep the roller on a few tender calf areas for 30 seconds each.)
- Avoid standing or walking far in high heels.