High heels have been around for centuries. It’s believed high-heeled shoes were first worn in the 10th century by Persian military to keep their shoes in their stirrups. Today, they are worn by many people and in a variety of types and styles such as sling-back, stiletto, pump, kitten, cone or boot.
While they may aid those who are vertically challenged, complement a LBD (little black dress) or even win the affection of a prince (sorry, ugly stepsisters!), these stylish stilts can do quite a number on your feet, ankles and body.
How your feet affect your whole body
With 26 bones, 33 joints and more than 100 muscles, ligaments and tendons, your feet are complex and play an important role in your balance, support, posture and well-being. Foot issues – in this case, high heels – can lead to an imbalance, poor posture, pain and ongoing foot problems.
So, before you plan out what high heeled number you’re going to wear, consider some of the risks associated with them. Sometimes the pain isn’t always worth the price of fashion.
Strains, tears and fractures
The angle a high-heeled shoe puts your foot could cause short-term and even chronic pain in the ball of your foot and toes.
“Wearing high heels places the foot in a position where the forefoot bears more weight than normal, placing more pressure on the ball of the foot and metatarsal heads or middle joints,” said Travis Jensen, DPM, a podiatrist with Banner Health in Arizona. “This excess pressure can cause pain in the joints in the ball of the foot, known as capsulitis or metatarsalgia, and can lead to stress fractures, tendon/ligament tears and contractures or stiffness.”
Heel and arch pain
When you move, your Achilles tendon, the band of tissues stretching form the back of your heel all the way to your calf, lengthens and shortens. When you point your toes and raise your heels, this tendon shortens. Too much shortening, however, is a bad thing. It can lead to pain in your heels and the arches of your feet.
“High heels can reshape the calf muscles and stiffen the Achilles tendons, which can lead to issues like Achilles tendonitis and plantar fasciitis,” Dr. Jensen said.
Also, you could develop a deformity called Haglund’s deformity, or pump bump, a bony formation on your heel that’s created over time as your shoes rub up and down or press into the back of your feet.
You may also develop a heel spur, a bony growth of calcium deposit that can occur in the back of or under your heel, or beneath the sole of your foot.
Toe injuries and deformities
Shoes with a narrow, pointed toe force your toes into an unnatural V-shape. If you wear high heels every day, over time they could cause toe deformities such as hammertoes or claw toes, bunions, corns and calluses and ingrown toenails.
“Excess or abnormal stress on the joints due to the altered position and gait can lead to arthritis and pain,” Dr. Jensen said.
Sometimes pointy-toed shoes can even irritate and inflame the nerves enough to cause nerve conditions in the feet, such as Morton neuroma.
Feel like you are teetering side to side in your heels? Be careful as you could twist your ankle.
“High heels can also put the foot and ankle in an unstable position, which can increase your risk for ankle sprains and other injuries,” Dr. Jensen said. As your body attempts to stabilize the foot in this position, muscles that usually may not be used for this can become fatigued, inflamed or injured.”
Generally, the higher the heel the more unstable your foot position and the higher the risk of pain and injury.
[Got weak ankles? Check out, “How to Make Your Weak Ankles Strong.”]
Knee and back pain
As you work to keep your body balanced on your heels, the rest of your body is having to adjust as well.
“Heels don’t just alter the way your foot functions, they also affect the body mechanics of how you walk, stand and carry yourself,” Dr. Jensen said. “This can put undue stress on your knees, hips and lower back.
While the pain may be mild at first, wearing high heels everyday can lead to chronic pain and arthritis.
How to avoid injuries from high-heeled shoes
If you love the look and enjoy wearing high heels, we get it. If you simply can’t part ways with your favorite heels, consider these tips to reduce your risk for injury and pain.
- Take them down a notch or two. It might seem like a no-brainer, but lower heels will give your feet a break from the pain of high heels. The pain from high heels is caused from abnormal distribution of weight and can lead to hammer toes, bunions and blisters.
- Go for the perfect fit. Always get your feet measured before buying a new pair of heels. The ligaments in your feet stretch over time, affecting the length and width of your feet, and there’s nothing more painful than heels that don’t fit right!
- Make sure you have some wiggle room. Look for rounded or open-toed shoes to give your toes more wiggle room in the toe box. A soft insole inside can also reduce strain on your foot.
- Take a break. Limit the time and amount of walking you do in heels. It’s not a bad idea to have a second pair of shoes with you that are flat, so when your feet start to hurt you can give your feet a break.
- Don’t forget the flats. You don’t have to wear high heels every day, and there are some comfortable and professional flats to choose from.
- Work on your core and back strength. A strong back and core gives you added strength in your lower extremities and will help with your balance.
- See your provider when you experience pain. There’s a saying, “No pain, no gain,” but see your health care provider or a podiatrist if you’re suffering pain as a result of your footwear. This can help you reduce the risk for long-term injury and pain.
Some people prefer fashion over function when it comes to heels. But wearing these high heeled numbers can do a number on your toes, feet, ankles and body leading to a host of injuries.
If you’re experiencing pain because of your high heel use, contact your health care provider or a podiatrist. To find a specialist near you, visit www.bannerhealth.com.