What High Heels Can Do to Your Feet

Most women have at least one or two pairs of high heels in their closet—at least for special occasions. But while these shoes may be fashionable, they also come with substantial risks, especially for those who wear them often.

In addition to routine pain and strain, wearing high heels can lead to more serious foot conditions and complications. And the more often you wear them, the greater your chances of suffering from significant pain and even deformity later in life.

The Problem with High Heels

Your foot is naturally designed to allow you to stand and walk comfortably all day long. The arch gently flexes as weight shifts from the back to the front of the foot, spreading out the impact force over a longer period of time and over a larger surface area. This reduces the strain on the various muscles, ligaments, tendons, and joints of the foot.

Now, not everyone’s feet do this equally well—especially since today we’re spending most of our time standing and walking on hard, flat surfaces like wood, tile, and pavement. That’s why a good pair of walking shoes, and sometimes custom orthotics, are also important.

But when you put your feet in a pair of high heels, every part of your walking gait gets shifted—and not in a good way. All your weight goes to the front of your feet. The arch gets no cushioning or support. Additional strain is placed on the muscles and tendons of the lower leg.

So it’s no wonder that those who wear high heels often are much more likely to develop all kinds of painful problems.

Common Complications From Wearing High Heels

Some specific foot conditions that are often linked to high heels include the following:

Bunions and Hammertoes

Wearing high heels puts incredible pressure on the front portion of your feet, including the balls of the of the feet and the toes. Furthermore, most high heels have narrowly pointed toe boxes, scrunching your toes together even more.

As a result, regularly wearing high heels can accelerate the development of bunions (bony bumps on the inside of the big toe joint) and hammertoes (toes that remain stuck in a curled position). This is especially true if bunions or hammertoes run in your family, since these conditions also often have a genetic component.

Of course, if you already have bunions or hammertoes, high heels can irritate them even more and be severely painful to wear.


Metatarsalgia simply means pain in the metatarsals, five long bones in each foot located in the balls of the feet. When you wear high heels, all of your body weight is concentrated squarely on the balls of your feet.

This, understandably, can make this part of your foot very swollen and sore. Many people even develop thick calluses, swollen nerve tissue (neuromas), or stress fractures in the metatarsal bones.

Spider and Varicose Veins

Under normal circumstances, calf and leg muscles need to contract to help “pump” blood from your foot back up to your heart. This is critically important for circulation, since blood in the feet has to work against gravity.

When you wear heels, your leg muscles remain in a constantly contracted state. Since they can’t relax, this inhibits their natural ability to “pull” blood away from the feet. As a result, the blood may pool in the legs, and blood vessels may become swollen.

In addition to being a cosmetic eyesore, varicose veins can be painful and increase the risk of restless leg syndrome or ulcers.

Ingrown Toenails

If the toe box is too tight, the shoe may be putting direct pressure on your toenails. This greatly increases the likelihood that the nail will become ingrown and start digging into the soft skin of the toe. Ingrown toenails can be very painful, and even lead to an infection if not treated promptly.

Ankle Sprains

Most high heels offer no ankle support whatsoever. In addition, simply wearing them forces you to shift your weight forward and alter your standing and walking mechanics in ways that decrease your stability and make it more difficult to balance.

The result is that wearing high heels can significantly increase your risk of stumbling, falling, and twisting an ankle—enough to sprain or sometimes even break it. The risk is even higher if you’re tired, in a crowded location, or walking on uneven surfaces.

Leg and Back Pain

Because your whole body weight is shifted forward and your biomechanics change when wearing high heels, painful problems don’t just stay in your feet. Every part of your body, from legs to back to shoulders, has to adjust in order to keep your balance. And that means the pain can occur almost anywhere.

For example, regular high heel use has been linked to chronic knee pain, hip problems, hamstring and calf injuries, and back pain. All because you have to carry yourself differently when wearing heels.

Is There a “Safe” Way to Wear High Heels?

The short answer is no. Even wearing high heels one time could be what leads to an awkward stumble and ankle sprain. And you don’t have to wear them very long before they start hurting.

However, for those who do want to occasionally wear their heels, we offer these guidelines.

  • The less you wear them, the better. Stick to special occasions. Bring a second pair of shoes along with you so that you can change out of your heels when you don’t need them any longer.
  • The shorter the heel, the better. The higher your heel, the more unbalanced your walking gait becomes and the more strain you put on your legs and feet. Most podiatrists recommend an absolute maximum heel height of 2 inches.
  • The wider the heel, the better. It’s much easier to balance yourself in a chunky wedge heel than a narrow stiletto.
  • Look for pairs with toe boxes wide and deep enough to avoid putting direct pressure on your toes or toenails.
  • Keep your lower leg muscles strong through regular stretching and exercise. When you wear heels, you really rely on these muscles to keep you balanced.
  • Be extremely cautious when wearing heels, especially in crowded public areas.

All that being said, the best thing you can do for your feet is to just not wear them at all, and stick with more supportive and comfortable shoes.

You wouldn’t be alone. In fact, according to market research from the NPD Group published earlier in 2018, high heel sales were down 12 percent in 2017 versus the year before. In other words, more and more people are deciding they just aren’t worth it.

Are your feet, legs, or even back aching due to high heel use? First, switch to more comfortable shoes. Then, make an appointment to see Dr. Lisa Brandy in DeSoto, TX. We can provide a complete, accurate diagnosis and customize a treatment plan that fits your condition and lifestyle.

You can request an appointment online, or call the Trinity Foot Center office at (972) 293-9650.

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1801 N. Hampton Road
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DeSoto, TX 75115

Inside the Inwood National Bank Building on the 3rd Floor

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