High Heel Hazards: The Dangers of Those Darling Stilettos

red stilettos

High heels can be miracle-workers. They can make us feel sexy, tone our calves, and give us that added boost in height that so many of us crave. Unfortunately, studies have shown that parading around in those pumps can cause way more harm than good. According to the American Osteopathic Association, 1 in 10 women wear high heels at least 3 days a week, and a third of them have fallen wearing them.

High heels that are 2 inches or higher are one of the biggest factors leading to foot problems in women, and we're not just talking about pulled muscles or cramped toes (although those aren't a walk in the park either). Wearing high heels for prolonged amounts of time (over 4 hours, for 3 or more days a week) can cause irreversible damage to our whole body.

high heel pain

What can happen: Extended wear of those striking stilettos can lead to any number of issues in your toes, ankles, calves, and lower back. According to Dr. Nevins, an osteopathic physician, wearing heels that are 2 inches or higher causes your foot to slide forward in your shoes, forcing your toes into an unnatural position. This, in turn, makes you readjust your weight incorrectly to stay balanced. To compensate for the forward tilt of your body, you are forced to lean backwards and overextend your back, which can cause all sorts of leg and lower back problems. The pressure exerted on the nerves of your back can also cause chronic pain, and longterm wear can even shorten the muscles in your calves and back causing muscle pains and spasms.

According to the Australian Natural Health Magazine, high heels cause serious issues in the distribution of your weight, and the extra compression force that is placed on your knees increases by 23%. Women's Health Magazine claims that the extra compression restricts the circulation in your lower limbs (as your ankles bend too far forward), which can eventually lead to spider veins. Here are a few additional examples of the negative effects those hot heels can have on your body: (via American Osteopathic Association)

  • In-grown toe nails
  • Damage to the leg tendons
  • Sciatica
  • Nerve damage
  • Bunions
  • Osteoarthritis of the knee
  • Plantar fascitis

Solutions: Luckily, there are a few simple steps you can take so that you can still rock those heels without damaging your body. (via American Osteopathic Association)

flat shoes

  • Choose sensible heels: Instead of reaching for those stilettos, try out some heels that are 1.5 inches or less with a wider base. This will help with weight distribution. Click here for a few examples. 
  • Wear insoles: Soft, insertable insoles will go a long way in making sure your foot doesn't slide forward when you walk. If you can wiggle your toes in your shoes, even better! Click here for an example.
  • Minimal usage: Try to only wear your heels on days that require minimal walking or standing, and try to slip them off every couple hours to give your feet a breather!
  • Alternate shoes: We know it's hard to give up wearing that favorite pair every day, but the more frequently you change up shoes, the better it is for your legs. Bring a comfy set of shoes for the drive to work, or alternate heels and flats every other day to mix things up!
  • Stretch: Make sure that you are stretching out your legs every time you wear heels. Focus especially on your calves, ankles and toes.

In our fashion-obsessed world, it may be more of a struggle to ditch those heels than we would like to admit. As long as you switch out your stilettos for some slightly more sensible (but equally as sexy) substitutes, you can go a long way in preventing permanent damage to your body.

For more information on the dangers of high heels, check out these sources:

American Osteopathic Association, Australian Natural Health Magazine, Women's Health Magazine