Do High Heels Permanently Damage Your Feet?

Do High Heels Permanently Damage Your Feet?

Dr. Darria provides tips on how you can wear those fashionable heels while maintaining your foot health.

I’m a slave to fashion—if 5-inch heels are trending, I’m there! But wearing heels can be painful and I wonder if I’m doing permanent damage to my feet. Am I stuck with flats? 

My patient was wearing fantastic shoes. Tan heels, with a little platform to give her extra height.

Of course, she hadn’t come to see me to discuss foot fashion—she’d come because she’d fallen, twisting her ankle. It was what you’d call a fashion casualty. Don’t worry—this article is not about how you shouldn’t wear your favorite heels—it’s about how to wear them safely and comfortably.

As beautiful as these shoes are, the consequences can be ugly! Here are some of the more common injuries I see in the ER causing foot pain:

  • Sprained ankle: Watch the height of the platform and heel (as well as heel width) or you could end up with a sprained ankle. Ideally the heel should be no more than 2 inches high if you’re going to be doing a lot of walking (carry the higher heels for standing around and looking super cute at the party). Stilettos can set you up for a quick fall. For better walking stability, the wider the heel width the better.
  • Strained muscles: Studies (yes, some wonderful person has studied high heels!) have shown that women who regularly wear high heels actually change their anatomy -- causing the calf muscles to shorten and strain.
  • Heel blister/callouses: Depending on the angle of the shoe, the back of the heel can cause painful blisters and unsightly callouses. That’s why it’s important to give shoes a good test run in the store. If you feel heel pain when you try them on, it won’t get better. Don’t buy!
  • Bunions: UGH. While genetics play a big role here (thanks, Mom!), wearing high heels contributes to the onset of bunions and worsens symptoms.
  • Toe deformities: A pointy toe-box can squish your little piggies.
  • Plantar fasciitis: High heels and flip-flops and ballet shoes lacking support are all culprits here. Plantar fasciitis causes heel pain along the fascia, which is the tissue that runs underneath your foot, connecting the heel to the toes. It often feels like pins and needles in or around the heel of your foot. The pain is usually worse in the morning (you’ll feel it when you first get out of bed), and just after resting.
  • Back and knee pain: Walking in heels changes your stride—even when you’re not wearing them. Shorter, more forceful steps strain the knees and back, causing back pain and knee pain.

So, what’s a fashionista to do? With a few smart steps, you can continue to wear your favorite shoes—without a trip to the ER (unless, of course, you simply want to come show me your shoes, which is always welcome!)

  • Switch it up: Don’t wear the same shoes every day, and alternate between heels/flats and supportive shoes.
  • Take ‘em off: When you’re sitting at your desk, take off your heels and flex and stretch your calf muscles. Use a foam roller at home to relax tight calves.
  • Fix that flat: For shoes that have no arch support, buy inserts to create the support you need (I also love the little felt pieces that you can stick at the back of the shoe, eliminating painful rubbing at the back of the heel).
  • Go for a wide toe-box: a wider toe-box will keep your tootsies from being squished into an abnormal position.
  • Make ‘em stick: Those beautiful heels with the soft leather bottom? Yeah—they’re like ice skating when you step onto a varnished floor. Before I wear new heels, I take them to my cobbler, who puts on a rubber bottom (same color as the leather, so you can’t tell). This keeps me from slipping and from having to grip the shoe with my toes and calves with every step. It’s a cheap adjustment (usually $7-10) that makes a huge difference.
  • Try exercises to prevent strain and treat plantar fasciitis:
    • Do a good heel stretch whenever you take off your shoes.
    • Stretch the bottom of your feet with a tennis ball—roll the ball back and forth under each foot for two to three minutes for a great stretch and massage.

Medically reviewed in April 2020.

Is Your Diet Giving You Wrinkles?
Is Your Diet Giving You Wrinkles?
Wrinkles may be an inevitable part of aging, but that doesn't mean fighting them is useless. Protecting your skin from exposure to ultraviolet radiati...
Read More
How does knowing my skin type affect my skin health?
Diana MeeksDiana Meeks
Skin type is determined by taking a number of factors into consideration. Some important factors inc...
More Answers
What Your Hair Says About Your Health
What Your Hair Says About Your HealthWhat Your Hair Says About Your HealthWhat Your Hair Says About Your HealthWhat Your Hair Says About Your Health
Five things your hair is trying to tell you.
Start Slideshow
What Are the Benefits of Retinol?
What Are the Benefits of Retinol?