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High Heels: Is Fashion Worth the Risk?

August 19, 2014

Picture this: You’re walking through the mall one day with a new dress in hand that you just bought. You got a great deal on it, and now all you need is the perfect pair of shoes to go along with it. As you pass by your favorite store, you see them—the most amazing pair of heels that will go perfectly with your new dress. The price tag is a little high, but you can’t resist—you decide to splurge on them anyway.

As women, we’ve all been there, haven’t we? We see the perfect pair of shoes—and we just have to have them. Even women who know it’s not the smartest idea to wear 4-inch pumps can’t resist the draw of an amazing pair of sharp heels. We think, “Even if they’re a little too tall or tough to walk in, oh well. They’ll be the perfect accessory for that new dress I have.” But no matter how “sharp” those heels are, they come with some serious health hazards, which is why it’s important to know how to protect your feet and legs from sharp pain.

Whether it’s high stilettos, pumps or wedges, we love high heels, but no woman is immune to the leg aches, swollen feet, corns, calluses or even sprained ankles that often accompany high heels. These shoes can cause serious foot and leg issues, and they can even make an existing problem worse.

Soothing the Pain of Wearing High Heels

While wearing high heels from time to time is not bad, wearing heels for 8 to 12 hours a day can cause or exacerbate some foot and leg issues. The problem with wearing heels is that it shortens your Achilles tendon. This the tendon located on the back of your leg that connects to your heel bone. So, if you wear heels on a daily basis, it is important to create a routine to ease the stress on your feet and legs. Here are some practical tips that will help you do just that:
  • Try wrapping a towel or scarf around the ball of your foot. Then, gently pull your foot toward your body to stretch out the Achilles tendon.
  • To relieve swollen feet at the end of a long day in heels, place a frozen plastic water bottle under your foot and roll it back and forth to stretch the foot and cool the tendons.
  • Use a product like Biofreeze or a menthol lotion to help soothe your feet as well.

Finding the Right Pair of Heels

As I mentioned earlier, it’s not a bad thing to wear high heels. But it’s important to be smart about the types of heels that you buy. Here are some suggestions that I offer to my patients to help them find that perfect pair:


While you may be tempted to purchase that last pair of gorgeous pumps even though they’re a half-size too small, resist the urge. Shoes that are too small compress the bones and have the potential to cause nerve damage. Ill-fitting shoes can also contribute to corns and calluses that are caused by friction where your shoes rub against your feet.

When purchasing a pair of heels, you may want to buy small pads to help reduce the friction in trouble spots. Some manufacturers are even beginning to incorporate comfort and foot health into their designs, including additional padding at pressure points to increase comfort.

Heel Height

Some women have no trouble walking in higher heels, while others may teeter and wobble in them. A narrow or skinny stiletto heel offers little support on which to balance your weight. So, my suggestion would be to change out the height of your heel and choose a height that is comfortable for you. A wedge, for instance, is a good option because it offers commanding height with greater stability, and it helps disperse your weight more evenly. And if you have to have the stiletto, look for one that has a platform built up under the ball of the foot. For example, a 5-inch stiletto with a 1 ½-inch platform is now the equivalent of a 3 ½-inch heel.

It is also a good idea to alternate your shoes regularly. So, for example, try wearing low-heeled pumps most days, then mix in a wedge heel every so often, and wear the 4-inch stilettos only on rare occasions.


The bulk of support in a shoe comes from the heel. So, naturally, a thicker heel is more stable than a stiletto. The chunkier heels that are in style now are a really good example of a more stable heel. They prevent women from rolling or turning their ankles when walking, which helps prevent ankle sprains and even ankle fractures.

Toe Box

Women tend to love the look of a pointy-toed shoe, but take care to buy heels with a toe box that is comfortable for you. Pointy toe boxes that pinch the toes contribute to ingrown toenails in the big toe or a pinched nerve called a neuroma. To avoid this, my recommendation would be to buy a more rounded toe box or a peep toe.

Again, anything in moderation is OK, but if you start to experience any of the following symptoms, you may want to consider consulting a foot and ankle surgeon.

  • Pain on the back of the heel (Achilles tendonitis)
  • Aches or pain in the ball of the foot
  • Numbness and tingling in the toes (neuroma)
  • A bump on the side of the big toe and foot (bunion)
  • Toes starting to curl (hammertoes)
  • Pain on the bottom of the heel (plantar fasciitis)
For more information on the health hazards of high heels, visit the American Osteopathic Association website.