Cute high heels are the cherry on top of any stylish ensemble. The only issue is: They hurt like hell. In fact, sometimes they hurt so much we can’t help but wonder: Are heels actually OK to wear on the regular?
To find out, we turned to the experts. Ahead, two doctors weigh in on exactly what wearing high heels does to your feet, whether you should wear them frequently and what you can do to minimize pain.
Your Foot in a High Heel
High heels can feel like a great idea, but wear them too much, and they can actually damage the structures of your feet (and a few other body parts, too). “High heels cause myriad problems for the wearer—not just in the feet, but also in the ankles, knees and even the back,” podiatrist Dr. Julie Schottenstein explains. “Heels cause the body weight to be transferred to the ball of the foot, leading to increased pain in this area, called metatarsalgia.”
Unfortunately, the bad news doesn’t end there. She explains that hoisting your body weight on the ball of your foot can cause pinched nerves (neuromas) and stress fractures. It also causes your knees and hips to shift forward, which means your back needs to try to adjust by extending backward. And heels can compress your toes, too, which can result in things like hammertoes and ingrown toenails.
“Long-term wearing of high heels can also lead to a shortening of the Achilles tendon and the muscles leading to muscle pain, spasms and leg cramps after wearing shoes,” Schottenstein explains. This might also mean you have a greater potential for injury when you’re wearing flat shoes, such as while you’re exercising or simply walking around.
On the whole, ouch.
Are Some Heels Better Than Others?
Yes, says Schottenstein, there are heeled shoes that are way better for your feet than others. “When picking a high heel to wear, it’s best to look for a heel or wedge that is 2 inches or less—[plus], a good amount of space in the toe box area of the shoe so the toes are not cramped,” she explains. “Cushion in the front of the shoe, under the ball of the foot, is also important to try and prevent pain.”
But if you don’t want to risk your feet at all, Dr. Barbara Bergin, an orthopedic surgeon at Texas Orthopedics, Sports and Rehabilitation Associates, says flat shoes with a wide toe box are best. Flat shoes won’t force your toes into a tiny space and send your body alignment out of kilter, so those are your best bet, she explains.
So No Heels… Ever?!
Not so fast—it’s not all bad news. There might actually be a medical reason why you should wear heels, according to Schottenstein. “For some foot conditions, like plantar fasciitis, wearing a small heel is actually helpful, and wearing very flat shoes is discouraged,” she explains. “Wearing a small heel, under 2 inches, can actually encourage the arch to lift, alleviating some discomfort and helping to stretch the fascia.”
And if you have the perfect set of heels to go with that one amazing outfit, all is not lost. As with many fun things in life, moderation is crucial. “The key to wearing heels in general is to do it in moderation—in both time (three hours or less) and frequency, alternating in wearing them with more supportive shoes,” Schottenstein explains.
In other words, make sure you have a pair of more comfortable shoes to slip on if you expect your evening to go on but your feet are hurting. But most of the time, if you’re considered about optimal foot health, pick a flat shoe with plenty of space for your toes for your feet to be—and remain—happy.
Originally posted on SheKnows.