High heels may be pretty, but that doesn’t mean they’re harmless. ‘Beauty is pain’ goes the adage. You still shouldn’t have to suffer from bad shoes. This article examines which shoe is best for you based upon your lifestyle and activity level. It also looks at how much time you can safely spend wearing high heels.
The worst for wear
The Orthopaedic Associates of New York’s recent research concludes that the worst shoes for a woman’s feet have a high and skinny heel (sometimes called ‘needle’ heels). They’re so bad because the majority of your body’s weight rests on the ball of your foot, where your toes are. This puts much of the pressure on one point. Your knees and hips roll forward, affecting the body’s general balance and causing a deterioration of the health of your legs and back. Wearing this style of shoe can cause harm to everywhere between your ankles and your lower back.
Love platform shoes? Popular or not, these also compromise your body. Despite the commonly held belief that the weight is equally spread along the whole foot, it’s simply not true. Just as is the case with the tall and skinny heel, when you wear platforms, pressure is put on your toes – though the thick heel protects your feet a bit more. Don’t be fooled. Platform shoes can still produce their fair share of aching ankles, painful backs, calluses and bunions.
Surely ankle boots are a safe bet? Don’t count on it. Remember the study that we mentioned? Well, it showed that increased heel size actually exacerbates potential harm, because 25% of your body’s weight falls on your toes. So it would appear that the bigger the heel, the greater the damage.
Flats (ballet slippers, for instance) remain popular, as they’re so versatile. Not only are they acceptable in a work environment, but they’re also suited for going out with friends. Don’t be lulled into a false sense of security. Even though they have no heel and are very flat, they don’t provide good arch support. Essentially, your feet will have to work double time. This overcompensation causes inflammation, back pain, heel discomfort – even fractures.
Trainers or athletic shoes that are designed for exercise or walking provide your feet with proper support. This is great news, provided you wear them with cotton socks. If you don’t, wearing them frequently may be inviting an unpleasant fungal infection.
More important info about wearing heels
According to statistics, women suffer problems related to their feet four times as often as men do! The primary culprit, as you might expect, is the shoes many women choose to wear – especially if their shoes of choice are high heels. When your bare feet are on the ground, for each step you take, the front half (commonly referred to as the ball) supports 43% of your weight whilst the heel absorbs the other 57%.
As your heel height increases, this percentage shifts. By way of explanation: when the heel of your shoe is 6cm, 75% of the pressure is on your toes. Increase the heel height to 10cm and 90% of the weight rests on the ball. Ouch.
This weight imbalance causes your weight to shift, which, in general, will alter your posture. You’ll notice pain first in the joints of your ankles and many women are more likely to suffer from sprains if they often wear heels. Muscle contractions in your calves are highly uncomfortable and occur because the lower part of the leg contracts and shortens as it compensates for the weight that has moved forward.
The knee joints are next to tell you that they’re not coping well with all the extra work you’re asking of them. When you wear heels, the tension increases from the sole of the foot upward. Because you flex more than you would if you were barefoot, your quadriceps and anterior leg muscles are not balanced properly.
Need more persuasion to rethink your obsession with high heeled shoes? Over time, wearing them will maladjust the hip joint and increase lower back and back pain. In fact, they’ll completely change your posture. Bunions and calluses will appear on your feet. Your toes may begin to show some deformations, too, as a result of the swelling and pain that they endure day after day.
How can you prevent the problems caused by heels?
We’ve been brutally honest about the risks that you take if you wear high heeled shoes. If you still must wear them – whether because you think that they’re more suitable for work or to feel good about yourself (after all, they do lengthen your legs and make you appear taller) – try to limit the occasions when you do. You might think that your best choice is to stop wearing them. However, as we discussed earlier, shoes without heels aren’t necessarily going to solve all of your problems.
The most pragmatic thing to do is to wear heels that are about 2cm high. This will balance the ratio of support between the ball of your foot and the heel bone so that each is bearing 50% of your weight. One word of caution: choose heels that aren’t higher than 3cm. If you like a lot of height, go for platform shoes that won’t hurt your foot quite so much.
Infrequent wearing of heels (at special occasions, for instance) poses no problem. Just don’t make a habit of punishing your feet for countless hours every day. Avoid wearing them to work if at all possible. If you are unable to wear any other type of shoe at work, take along another pair with you so that you can change when you arrive and leave. Wear a comfortable pair for your commute and change into your high heeled shoes when you get there. If you have a desk job, you can slip them off whilst you’re sitting and put them back on if you’re attending a meeting or engagement that requires you to look more professional.
Surprisingly, the narrower the shoe, the fewer problems you’ll experience with the health of your feet. Material matters, too. Synthetic leather is your best option, if possible. Your toes will be immobilised and won’t move or slide about freely.
Images courtesy of Mervi Eskelinen, Jocely Saurini, Larry Johnson, Heather Dow, Maria Morri Thomas R Koll, Alison Here