High Heels Hurt More Than Your Wallet

Foot Health and High Heels

By: Jane Langille

Those ‘killer’ high heels may be the latest fashion rage, but wearing them regularly can strain more than your budget — it can lead to a host of foot and posture problems.

Did you know that your foot has 26 bones held in place by hundreds of ligaments, tendons and muscles? Every day, the average adult exerts over one million pounds of force on their feet.[1]

When you wear high heels, your feet slide forward, incorrectly redistributing your body weight. An Australian study of young women in their late teens, 20s, or early 30s, found that those who regularly wore high heels at least 40 hours per week for two years had shortened calf muscles and walked with a pointed-toe gait, even when walking barefoot. What’s surprising is that these differences did not take decades to develop, as the women in this study were fairly young.[2]

Wearing high heels can lead to many health problems:

  • bunions – a bony misalignment of the large big toe joint
  • corns – calluses on the tops of toes from repeated rubbing in tight shoes
  • knee strain – from misaligned gait
  • ingrown toenails – the toenail side or corner grows into skin
  • shortened calf muscles –
  • shortened Achilles tendon – the tendon that joins heel bone to calf
  • twisted ankles – from falling sideways
  • back pain and sciatica – muscular pain and pinched sciatic nerve
  • neuromas – benign growth of nerve tissue between toes causing pain or numbness

Top Tips for Wearing High Heels

You don’t have to give up your dressy high heels altogether. Here are some tips for protecting your foot health:

  1. Choose wisely. Buy shoes with low heels whenever possible, such as an inch and half or less. Wider heels distribute body weight more evenly than pointy spikes.
  2. Wear padded insoles. The cushioning can help reduce the impact of increased pressure on the ball of your foot and toes.
  3. Match your shape. Try to buy shoes that have a toe box matching the shape of your foot to allow enough wiggle room and no toe pinching.
  4. Alternate. Switch things up by wearing flats on alternate days. On days that you do wear heels, kick them off under your desk occasionally to give your feet a break. Consider wearing comfortable flats or runners while commuting.
  5. Stretch. Stretch your calf muscles and feet every day. For example, try some calf raises standing on the edge of a step with your shoes off or trying to pick up a pencil from the floor with your toes.

Your feet support you, literally, in all that you do each day. If you have any foot pain, talk to your healthcare provider.


Helpful Resources


[1]  Foot Health: Canadian Podiatric Medical Association

[2] A Scientific Look at the Dangers of High Heels. Gretchen Reynolds, Well: The New York Times, January 25, 2012.


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