How High Heels Hurt Your Feet (or, We LOVE Your High Heels)

Woman rubbing back of heel, wearing yellow high heel shoesThere is a common stereotype that podiatrists don’t have anything good to say about high heels, but let’s break that right now – high heels aren’t as bad for your feet as flip-flops. They also make your legs look better!

Fine, that might not be quite the same as saying something good, but there are reasons why this footwear brings so many patients into our office. As we look at how high heels hurt your feet, it’s important to keep in mind that wearing them in moderation isn’t as bad as wearing them all of the time.

Shoe Choice and Foot Problems

Generally speaking, shoes don’t create problems. A popular misconception is that pumps and stilettos are responsible for bunions. This simply isn’t the case. Bunions are the result of a biomechanical problems that create an imbalance in the big toe joint. With that being said, pretty shoes certainly “throw gas on the fire.”

When your MTP joint is already unstable, placing excessive pressure on the area—which high-heeled shoes do—can further drive the joint out and push your big toe inward. The big toe then moves over into the parking spot of the second toe. The second toe is displaced sideways or upward, producing a “floating toe” condition. Additionally, the excess pressure will contribute to a capsulitis – a condition where the soft tissue around the toe becomes inflamed and causes pain.  Many times the second toe produces the greatest complaint and not the bunion itself.

Of course, that isn’t even the biggest problem with high heels!

The front of the foot receives a lot of attention when discussing problems with these fashionable shoes, the raised heel causes an even bigger issue. From a long-term perspective, the effects on your Achilles tendons are more concerning.

The raised position shapes the calf muscle and shortens the Achilles. Over a long period of time, this complex will permanently tighten what is called an Equinus, after the shape of a horse’s leg. The larger and shortened calf muscle will overpower the smaller muscles in the front of the leg and create a “domino” effect. This can lead to toe deformities like hammertoes and heel pain. A short Achilles tendon is linked to 80% of ALL foot problems.

Some women (and maybe some guys) go to extreme measures to keep wearing these types of shoes. In some cases, they will have a “reverse liposuction” procedure performed where fat is injected into the bottoms of their feet (for additional padding). Others, who are even more extreme, have toes removed so they can fit into shoes with tiny, confined toe boxes! And you thought the ancient Chinese were cruel for binding feet.

If you take a moment to consider all of this, it’s easy to understand why you will rarely, if ever, find a 50-, 60-, or 70-year old woman saying she was glad she wore high heels.

Steps to Take to Avoid Foot Pain

As mentioned earlier, moderation is the way to go if you are going to wear pumps or stilettos. Every step you take while not wearing high heels is less damage to your feet! If you wear these kinds of shoes for work, consider making your commute to and from the office in more sensible, comfortable footwear and save the high heels for your work hours. You can reverse the Equinus with stretching exercises that target your calf muscles.

Now, if you have developed foot problems on account of frequent high heel use—or treatment of any foot or ankle condition—come see us at our Indianapolis, IN foot doctor office. You can contact us for more information online or call us right now at (317) 545-0505 and our staff can answer any questions or schedule your appointment.

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