Last Sunday brought us the most glamorous award show of the season, the Academy Awards. Glittering dresses, tailored tuxes, and some of the world’s most beautiful people dazzled on the television screen. Most of us would give anything to be one of those lucky ladies walking the red carpet. But while their faces remain calm and poised, their feet are screaming in pain. I don’t care who you are; every woman knows that high heels are bad for your feet. We hear it all the time (especially from our podiatrists), but what do they actually do to us? Why are they painful? Are there designs that are better than others?
Let’s get one thing straight; pain is never normal. Over 71% of women say that high heels cause them discomfort, but 38% of these women say they would wear them anyways if they look cute. Our feet were never designed to wear the constricting, sky-high styles of today’s modern culture. Heels over two inches in height put immense pressure on the metatarsal (the bone just behind your toes). This pressure can cause lasting nerve damage and a condition called Morton’s Neuroma. Imagine always feeling like there is a pebble right under the ball of your foot…. that’s Morton’s Neuroma. Surgery can correct this condition, but who needs that when we can avoid this condition just by choosing a different pair of shoes?
READ MORE: Neuromas
Perhaps the most common foot problem associated with high heels is bunions. We take our five beautifully spaced toes and cram them into a space barely half their size causing permanent damage from the misalignment of our bones. The big toe slowly turns toward the other toes and causes a painful bump on the bone. Every time you put on a shoe that rubs this bump (aka, every time you put on a high heel) the pain persists and worsens. On top of that, the crossing of our first and second toes means we can expect corns and calluses.
READ MORE: Bunions
So, let’s talk about your Achilles tendon. This is the tendon that connects your heel to your calf muscle. It’s long and it’s important and long-term wearing of high heals damages it significantly. Achilles tendonitis is a common injury of athletes, and while wearing high heels might feel like an Olympic sport sometimes, it shouldn’t be causing us injury. Prolonged wearing of heels shortens the tendon, so when we wear any other type of shoe our tendon works harder to stretch and is more likely to sprain.
Now, does any of the above sound like fun? Is permanent damage to our feet worth the extra inch of the newest stilettos? The good news is, there are many easy ways to avoid these injuries and still look good in our favorite heels.
First of all, spend less time walking in heels. Wear a different pair of shoes to and from wherever you are going. Save the pencil thin heels for a very special occasion. How you choose and what heels you choose can have a major impact on foot comfort and health. Make sure you try them on and actually walk around in them. Your feet should know pretty quickly if they aren’t the right heels for you. When choosing heel height, the Huffington Post offers some good advice, “Take the high heel test: Stand on the floor in your shoes with your knees straight, but not locked. Try to raise yourself on your toes so there's at least an inch of space under the heels. If this is not possible, your heels are too high and not appropriate for you.” (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/stacy-barrows/high-heels-comfort_b_1945299.html). Make sure the heel width is appropriate as well. If you waddle like a baby just learning to walk when you wear a stiletto, then don’t buy it. Choose something with some support, a wider heel means more surface area for balance. A platform under the toe box on the shoe usually adds some extra cushion and can take pressure off the metatarsal. This is the same reason wedges feel better, more cushion.
I don’t think there will ever come a day when women stop wearing high heels, but we can protect our feet with our choices. Make those choices good ones and if in doubt, talk to your podiatrist; they’ll know what is and isn’t good or you.