Women's health

High heels – is the pain worth it?

Kitten, cone, prism, stiletto, wedge, sling back, platform, pumps — nine different styles of high heels, or nine different ways to guarantee yourself a pair of sore feet? Some women can feel pain after just a few minutes in a pair of pumps, while others can make it through an entire day with no issues. But in the long run, just how bad is this high heel habit for your feet? We talked to Jay Paul and Kevin Fraser, both Certified Pedorthists at the Sunnybrook Centre for Independent Living (SCIL), to find out.

High heels place your foot in an unnatural position. “Wearing a high-heeled shoe forces the ankle into a downward angle and places the majority of the body’s weight over the ball of the foot. These bones are not designed to handle stress in this way, which can lead to injury with repetitive use,” says Fraser. These injuries can range from collapse of the metatarsal arches to bunions to a shortened Achilles tendon, which may end up needing to be surgically lengthened.

Years of wearing heels can cause permanent damage. “Women who have worn heels all their lives tend to have shortened calf muscles, which may make it very uncomfortable or even impossible to wear no or low heel footwear,” says Paul. As we age our stability may also decrease, putting high heel wearers at increased risk of sprains and strains.

The best “kind” of heel is a low heel, or none at all. Regardless of whether the shoe is a wedge or a sling back, if the heel is sky-high, it’s not good for your feet. “The lower the heel, the more natural the weight distribution will be on the foot, and the more stable you will be,” says Paul. Look for shoes with straps or laces, as they can help shoes stay on your foot while walking, without compromising shoe fit.

Rotate your shoes. Rotate your footwear so you aren’t wearing the same pair of shoes every day. “If you find one type of shoe relieves your foot pain, wear that type more frequently than the others,” says Fraser. People who work on their feet for the majority of the day should look for shoes with a thicker and more cushioned outsole, to absorb the forces between the foot and the ground. Give those bones, muscles, tendons and nerves a break when you can!

Running shoes can be your friend (really). For those who absolutely can’t live without heels, “wear athletic or sport shoes when you walk for longer distances, and change into your heels when you arrive at your destination,” says Paul. You’ll feel more energized, and you won’t have to start your meeting or event sore and fatigued!

About the author

Sybil Millar

Sybil Millar

Sybil Millar is the Communications Advisor for the Ross Tilley Burn Centre, Critical Care and Infectious Diseases programs at Sunnybrook.

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