If high heels are a staple in your wardrobe, it’s time to talk about foot health. While wearing two-inch or smaller heels every day won’t cause serious orthopedics issues, very high heels ranging from four to even six inches can cause issues like foot pain, low-back pain, poor posture—and over time—shortening of the Achilles tendon. In fact, nearly a third of women who regularly wear high heels experience permanent damage due to prolonged use.
High Heels and Women’s Health
While wearing sky-high heels for long amounts of time on a daily basis can cause pain to develop after only a few days, more serious orthopedics issues like a shortened Achilles tendon may take years to develop. If you wear high heels infrequently for special occasions, you are unlikely to negatively impact your foot health.
The most common short-term side effect? Pain. Because high heels take body weight from the back of your foot and push it onto the front, toe pain is likely the first symptom to develop. Additionally, tight or narrow shoes that place pressure on the big-toe joint may cause deformities called bunions.
A more serious side effect, a shortened Achilles tendon occurs when the tendon that connects your calf muscle to your heel gets used to being elevated and struggles to return back down to the ground. If you develop a shortened Achilles tendon, wearing flat shoes may become uncomfortable. Wearing high heels can also shorten your calf and back muscles, which may lead to pain or muscle spasms. Additionally, you may develop low-back strain caused by lordosis, a curved spine that develops when your vertebrae accommodate high heels to help you maintain an upright posture.
High Heels as Part of a Healthy Lifestyle
If you want to keep high heels as part of your lifestyle, there are a few ways to avoid pain and long-term damage without tossing your favorite pair of pumps. Proper fit is important with any pair of shoes, and even more so with high heels. Opt for heels that are two inches or less, and be sure to get the right size so your foot doesn’t slide forward and you can comfortably wiggle all your toes.
Also, ditch your heels if you’re going to be walking or standing a lot during the day, or consider getting gel cushions for the bottoms of your shoes. When your body weight places pressure on the front of your feet, gel cushions can help provide some relief. But skip arch supports, which won’t help much because you’re not placing weight on your entire foot.
If you experience foot or back pain from wearing high heels, working on your flexibility with activities like stretching and yoga can help reduce pain, extend your range of motion and improve balance. Try to regularly stretch out your feet and calf muscles on a step by placing your weight on the balls of your feet and dropping your heels a few times until you feel a light stretch. Or put a pen on the floor and pick it up with your toes!
Find an orthopedics specialist near you.