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The Harm of High Heels

From tiny kitten heels and sky-high stilettos to pumps and sling backs, there is no denying that high heels are one of the staples of any woman’s wardrobe. And while they may be good for your social life, they are not so great when it comes to the health of your feet.

High heels have long since had the stigma of being bad for health (and comfort!) but that doesn’t stop women from wearing them. In fact, a survey conducted by the American Podiatric Medical Association showed some 42% of women admitting that they would wear a shoe they liked even if it gave them discomfort. 73% admitted to already having a shoe-related foot issue.

It is clear from these statistics that all over the world women are sacrificing a lot more than their bank balances for the sake of foot fashion, but wear heels too much and you are likely to end up with permanent foot problems. And not just your feet; they can be responsible for a range of other problems too.

What Happens When You Wear High Heels?

When you wear high heels you change the way you walk from the natural way we evolved to an entirely unnatural one. We evolved to walk from our heels to our toes with the leg supported by the foot at an angle of around 90 degrees, and usually our ankle joint can move around 60 degrees, but all of that changes when we wear high heels.


Our feet have evolved to distribute our weight and to provide cushioning to protect the rest of our bodies from jolts. Once you put your feet in high heels, your weight distribution changes. Most of your weight is transferred to the balls of your feet and the bones in your toes. The effect depends on the height of the heel; just four inch heels can increase the weight loading on the front of your foot by nearly a third.  The manner in which we walk changes from the normal heel to toe movement to a gait that is far more abrupt; so instead of striding naturally we are forced into a kind of staccato gait.  

Our feet respond to this unnatural pressure distribution and forced way of walking in several ways:

  • Corns and calluses can develop. These are regions of thickened skin that can be particularly uncomfortable and painful.
  • Bunions can also develop. These are bony deformities that develop at the base of the big toe joint and can cause the first bone in your foot to point outwards. They are unpleasant and can be painful.
  • Hammer toe is particularly distressing. It can be caused by high heels forcing the toe into a bent position. The muscles shorten causing the toes to deform; the condition is unpleasant and painful.
  • Metatarsalgia is experienced as a burning ache at the front of the foot in the metatarsal region and sometimes numbness or tingling. It is caused by excessive pressure on the ball of the foot.
  • Ingrown toenail is a painful condition where the nail grows into one of both sides of the nail bed. It is most common in the big toes and can make walking quite painful.

Ankles and Calves

When you wear high heels, your ankles are bent forward unnaturally. This can restrict blood circulation in your legs and damage your Achilles tendon. The tendon can lose its flexibility and tighten making it susceptible to damage after your kick off your heels and start to walk barefoot or in flats. Some of the problems arising from this are:

  • Spider veins in the leg resulting from restricted circulation.
  • Achilles tendinitis, a chronic pain in the ankles.
  • Permanent calf and ankle tendon damage can make it painful to walk in anything but high heels. 


It isn’t only sportsmen and women who tend to suffer from damaged knees; wearing high heels can also do the trick, and the condition can be excruciatingly painful. High heels change the angle of the knee at the moment the feet strike the ground which increases stress on the knee joints with the potential of causing osteoarthritis; the higher the heel, the greater the potential for damage.

Lower Back

The lower back is particularly susceptible to damage, and there is a higher frequency of sufferers of lower back pain amongst women who wear high heels than other groups. There is also some evidence that lumbar lordosis (curvature of the spine) can result. Damage to the lower back can also result in sciatica, a condition that can be more painful than childbirth.


So have we persuaded you to ditch all your heels and opt for flats in the future? No, we didn’t think so, but if you must wear heels taking the following tips into consideration can drastically lower the negative effects without avoiding them altogether.

  • Avoid wearing high heels for long periods of time
  • Wear heels on a day that requires limited walking or standing
  • Buy a wide variety of shoes and vary your footwear from day to day
  • Pick the right size – try buy shoes in the afternoon when feet are at their largest
  • Leather insoles will keep your foot from slipping
  • Low heels (2 inches or less) reduces the pressure placed on forefoot
  • Wider heels will spread the load more evenly and provide more support for your feet
  • Try to avoid the pointed toe
  • Take time every day to stretch your calf muscles and feet before and after putting heels on