How Bad Are High Heels for Your Feet?

High Heels, Alliance Foot & Ankle, Achilles tendon, Morton’s neuroma

About 77% of women wear high heels for special occasions like weddings, and about half of American women wear heels to parties and out to dinner. If you have a pair or two of heels that simply complete your look, you aren’t alone.

The problem, of course, is that they aren’t good for you. They likely leave your feet aching, regardless of how comfortable they are. After a few hours, you probably have an ache in your lower back, your knees might hurt, and the balls of your feet may hurt -- a pain called metatarsalgia -- due to the excessive downward force exerted on them.

The higher the heel, the worse the problem. A one-inch heel exerts about 22% more pressure on the ball of your foot than a flat shoe. With a three-inch heel, there’s more than 75% more pressure on your forefoot!

Wearing high heels once in a great while probably won’t pose any immediate dangers to your health, however, wearing them daily or even weekly very well may. Here are a few of the potential risks you face from wearing high heels.

When you’re wearing heels, there’s less tension in your Achilles tendon than when your standing flat. Though less tension may seem like a good thing, it actually results in the tendon becoming shorter over time.

The excess pressure on the balls of your feet when you’re wearing heels, especially heels that are three inches or higher, can lead to stress fractures, which are small cracks in the bones of your feet that occur without injury.

The most common type of pinched nerve resulting from wearing high heels is called Morton’s neuroma. You may feel as if you have a pebble under your foot or like there’s a fold in your sock between your third and fourth toe.

You may have burning, tingling, numbness, or feel a pain in the ball of your foot that radiates toward your toes if you have Morton’s neuroma. Treatment may include injections or surgery if switching shoes doesn’t help.

The best way to protect yourself from the pain that can result from wearing high heels is not wearing them. However, if you’re going to wear them, you can do a few things to mitigate the harmful effects.

Your toes are squished when you wear heels, and if you wear shoes with a pointed toe, the toes are even more crowded. You have a higher risk of developing bunions and hammertoe, as well as fungal infections, if you wear heels.

There are cosmetic issues with bunions and hammertoe, but more importantly, both conditions are quite painful. If changing shoes doesn’t help, your only other option may be surgery.  

Before and after you wear heels, be sure to carefully and methodically stretch the muscles in your legs. Strengthening your calves will help you have better balance and lessen the likelihood of falling or spraining an ankle.

A lower heel exerts less pressure on the balls of your feet, provides better stability, and is generally safer all around.

A wider toe box gives your toes more room to move and also relieves the pressure on the ball of your foot. A wider heel provides better stability, as well.

If you’re worried about the damage your favorite cute shoes may be causing, book an appointment online or by phone with one of the experts at Alliance Foot & Ankle. We can provide you with a consultation, advice, and suggestions on how to avoid injury.

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