High heels are one of the biggest causes of foot problems in women, often resulting in permanent problems as a result of prolonged wear.
Why high heels can cause a problem
When you wear high heels (two inches or more), your foot slides forward in your shoe, essentially crushing the forefoot and toes. Also, your body tilts forward, so you tend to lean backwards to compensate. The result is a posture that can strain your knees, hips, and lower back. Also, with your spine now in an unnatural position, there is pressure on the nerves in the back, which can cause sciatica. This is when nerves become trapped, causing pain and numbness as far down as the feet.
There are other effects, too. Over time, wearing high heels can shorten the muscles in your calves and back, leading to pain and muscle spasms. Many women who wear high heels suffer a shortening of the Achilles tendon, because the heel points upwards and tightens up as a result. Stretching it again, or switching to flat shoes, can be not only very painful, but can even lead to plantar fasciitis.
All this doesn’t mean you have to stop wearing heels. But, to minimise the risk of injury as described above, you are advised to:
- Select shoes with heels no higher than an inch and a half, and with a wide heel base. This will spread the load (your bodyweight) more evenly. Narrow, stiletto-type heels provide little support and three inch or higher heels may shorten the Achilles tendon.
- Wear soft insoles – this reduces the impact on your knees.
- Make sure your shoes are the right size so the foot doesn't slide forward, putting even more pressure on the toes.
- Don’t wear heels on occasions when you are likely to do a lot of walking or standing.
- Wear at least two types of shoe on a given day, or alternate shoe types from day to day. Wear more ‘fit for purpose’ shoes, such as athletic or walking shoes, for commuting to and from work.
- Stretch. Take time every day to stretch your calf muscles and feet.