Are high heels bad for your feet? Most people understand heels aren’t the healthiest choice when it comes to footwear, but many love them regardless. The trouble is if you’re not being diligent about proper strengthening and stretching to fix high heel damage, you could be setting yourself up for high levels of pain.
High heels throw the natural mechanics of your body into a state of utter dysfunction. Starting in the foot, chronic heel use can actually impact just about every part of your body. (Eventually, your high heel habit can actually trigger pain all the way up in your neck.)
So if you find yourself asking, “Are high heels bad for your feet?” Please know that the answer is yes, but the impacts span far beyond your feet.
In 2015, University of Alabama at Birmingham published some startling statistics related to high heel injuries. High heels sent an estimated 123,355 women to ER departments between 2002 and 2012. After crunching the numbers, that means about 7.32 per 100,000 women suffer injuries so severe hospital-level treatment is required.
Young women between the ages of 20 and 29 were most likely to suffer injuries, but women 30 to 39 years old also faced significant risk. And chances are more people may be asking the question, “Are high heels bad for your feet” today than they did several decades ago — high heel-related injuries nearly doubled during the 11-year study period. (1)
Are High Heels Bad for Your Feet?
Sprains & Strains
Wearing high heels could leave you Googling for sprained ankle treatments and beyond. When University of Alabama at Birmingham researchers scoured ER records related to high heels, they found foot and ankle sprains and strains ranked among the most common injuries. (2) One study found that wearing high heels of about 3.5 inches compared to lower, half-inch heels changes your ankle mechanics in a way that significantly increases the risk of a lateral ankle sprain. (3)
Wearing high heels is also a leading cause of ingrown toenail problems. High heels create chronic pressure on the big toenails, leading to dysfunctional toenail growth. Also known as onychocryptosis, an ingrown toenail is the result of the toes compressing together. This leads to the big toenails growing into the skin. Unpleasant, I know. People with type 2 diabetes should be particularly careful about wearing high heels, since it can further restrict circulation in the feet. (4)
Low Back Pain
Wearing high heeled shoes throw your normal gait into a dysfunctional state. In 2012, scientists from Poland showed heels cause your lumbar erector spinae back muscle to excessively fire, leading to muscle overuse and lower back pain issues. Wearing high heels throws off the normal lower pelvic range of motion. This means wearing high heeled shoes actually throws off your entire body’s posture. (5)
A bunion is a common problem that pops up in people who wear heels regularly. At first you might not think your bunion is any big deal, but when left untreated, bunions can cause serious scar tissue to form in the foot, toe abnormalities and a whole lot of pain.
So what it is? It’s that bony bump that sticks out at the base of your big toe. It forms when the bone or tissue located at the joint shifts out of place. Years of wearing narrow, high heels creates abnormal pressure and can cause that bony joint to appear.
Are High Heels Bad for Your Feet? Yes (Here’s How to Help Reverse Some of the Damage)
Ideally, ditching high heels for good would be best. But I understand that so many people feel confident in heels, so if you wear them, just take some precautions.
- Avoid wearing high heels every day.
- Avoid standing or walking long periods in heels. (Wear sneakers and switch into heels if you are walking to your destination.)
- If you do wear high heels, avoid ones that are narrow and tight-pointed.
- Rodney Stuck, DPM, professor of podiatry medicine at Loyola University Health System, suggests cutting out a cardboard tracing of each foot and attempting to place it in the shoe when shopping for a new pair. If it does not fit, then the shoes are too narrow.
- Trim toenails straight across the top to help prevent ingrown toenails.
- Put your feet in a warm epsom salt soak soak at the end of the day.