A Podiatrist’s Advice for Women in Heels
High heels have been around for thousands of years and the heights have varied from flats to over 5 inches. As a podiatrist, I’ve seen them all—some sensible and some not so much. Sorry ladies, but as a general rule, high heels fall into the not so sensible category. Heels cause the tendons on top of the foot to be stretched. As a result, these tight tendons cause the toes to contract leading to hammertoes and bunions. They also cause excess weight to be distributed to the balls of the feet. This excess pressure results in callus formation under the balls of the feet. Women who wear a lot of heels are also more prone to developing a condition called a Morton’s neuroma. A Morton’s neuroma is a benign nerve tumor that develops in the ball of the foot as a result of excess pressure. The condition usually presents pain, tingling, or numbness in the ball of the foot that may radiate into the 3rd and 4th toes.
Wearing high heels also causes the foot to pitch forward, increasing the curvature of the lower back and leading to the appearance of a more curvaceous “backside”. While this may be the desired effect of the heels, it causes excess pressure on the back and can result in contraction of the muscles in the lower back and damage to the vertebrae.
Having said all that, there are some surprising advantages to high heel shoes. Before I begin with my list of benefits, let’s be clear about one thing. By “high heels”, I mean 2 inches or less. Beyond fashion, there are no benefits of wearing heels higher than 2 inches.
High heels transfer more of your body weight into the balls of the foot which can help with some rear-foot conditions. Plantar fasciitis, in particular, is a good example. Plantar fasciitis is a condition where the ligament in the heel becomes inflamed. Patients often describe it as feeling like a stone bruise. Pain is often worse first thing in the morning or standing up after a period of rest. By shifting more of the body weight onto the ball of the foot, the plantar fasciitis is able to heal. In fact, many podiatrists recommend placing a small heel lift in your shoes to help with plantar fasciitis.
High heels also force you to take shorter steps which can help with hip and knee problems. By limiting the range of motion of these joints, conditions such as arthritis and capsulitis are less painful and have time to heal. Wearing heels also minimizes the stretch on the Achilles tendon and can be beneficial for problems with this structure. The Achilles tendon is the largest and strongest tendon in the body and with every step the entire body weight is transferred through this tendon. High heels decrease the tension through the tendon which may help with Achilles tendonitis. There are even studies claiming that high heel shoes improve muscle tone in the pelvic floor and reduce incontinence.
So the take home lesson here is to be sensible. If you must wear high heel shoes, keep them to 2 inches or lower and remember that wedge heels are the most stable and stilettos are the least stable. Here are a few more helpful heel tips.
TIPS FOR WEARING HEELS
1. Only wear them for short periods of time.
2. Limit the height to 2 inches.
3. Stretch out the leg muscles before and after wearing heels.
4. Avoid stilettos and pointed toes.
5. Wedge heels are the most stable.