It finally happened. You've found the perfect pair of heels and can't wait to wear them. Or maybe you regularly wear high heels because you feel they complete your bangin' outfit but can't wait to take them off at the end of the day. Sure, they look great, but we have to wonder — are heels really A-OK to wear? Do they mess up your feet? While we think a great pair of shoes can enhance your overall look, the type of footwear you select can impact your feet, and not in a good way.
Your foot in a high heel
High heels can feel and look like a great idea, but they can actually damage the structures of your feet — and other body parts as well. "High heels cause a myriad of problems for the wearer, not just in the feet, but also in the ankles, knees and even the back," podiatrist Dr. Julie Schottenstein tells SheKnows. "Heels cause the body weight to be transferred to the ball of the foot, leading to increased pain in this area, called metatarsalgia."
And the bad news doesn't end there. She explains that hoisting your body weight on the ball of your foot can cause pinched nerves (neuromas) and stress fractures. It also causes your knees and hips to shift forward, which means your back needs to try to adjust by extending backward, which can really jack it up. Heels can also compress your toes, she says, and can result in hammertoes as well as ingrown toenails.
It can even be worse for those who wear heels on the regular. "Long-term wearing of high heels can also lead to a shortening of the Achilles tendon and the muscles leading to muscle pain, spasms and leg cramps after wearing shoes," Schottenstein explains. This might also mean you have a greater potential for injury when you're wearing flat shoes, such as while you're exercising or simply walking around.
Are some heels better than others?
Yes, says Schottenstein, there are heeled shoes that are far better for the human foot than others. "When picking a high heel to wear, it is best to look for a heel or wedge that is 2 inches or less with a good amount of space in the toe box area of the shoe so the toes are not cramped," she explains. "Cushion in the front of the shoe, under the ball of the foot, is also important to try and prevent pain."
But if you don't want to risk your feet at all, Dr. Barbara Bergin, an orthopedic surgeon at Texas Orthopedics, Sports and Rehabilitation Associates, tells SheKnows that flat shoes with a wide toe box are best. Flat shoes won't force your toes into a tiny space and send your body alignment out of kilter, so those are your best bet, she explains.
So no heels… ever?!
If you love heels, though, it's not all bad news, and it's possible you might have a medical reason to avoid flat shoes, says Schottenstein. "For some foot conditions, like plantar fasciitis, wearing a small heel is actually helpful, and wearing very flat shoes is discouraged," she explains. "Wearing a small heel, under 2 inches, can actually encourage the arch to lift, alleviating some discomfort and helping to stretch the fascia." (Ask your doctor.)
Also, if you have the perfect set of heels to go with that one amazing outfit, all is not lost. As with many fun things in life, moderation is crucial. "The key to wearing heels in general is to do it in moderation — in both time (three hours or less) and frequency, alternating in wearing them with more supportive shoes," Schottenstein explains.
In other words, make sure you have a pair of more comfortable shoes to slip on if you expect your evening to go on but your feet are hurting. But most of the time, pick a flat shoe with plenty of space for your toes for your feet to be — and remain — happy.