The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine

Fashion Woes: A Startling Look at What High Heels Really Do to Your Feet

Posted by on Monday, December 30th, 2013


It’s unlikely high heels will vanish from our society, despite what podiatrists may say. Many of our staff members can’t resist a good heel when there is a fancy occasion. As the saying goes, “Everything in moderation.” The problem comes when women only wear high heels, day in and day out, and they pay little attention to more than how the shoe looks. We have an illuminating infographic (courtesy of the Huffington Post) to share with you that shows the effects of high heel shoes over time.

killer heels
These “killer heels” by artist Scott Hove from Oakland, CA illustrate just how scary shoes can be for the female anatomy.
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Top 10 High Heel Woes

The foot is designed to walk in a heel-to-toe pattern at a 90-degree angle with a 60-degree angle of motion. High heels force the foot into an unnatural position. As a result, podiatrists often hear complaints of:

1. Calluses – Friction or pressure leads to hardened, dry, thickened skin on the feet. The most common places calluses develop are the ball of the foot, the heel, under the big toe, and where the foot and toe meet.

2. Corns – Pressure causes hardened nuggets of keratin to grow on the foot, causing pain. Often times, corns develop underneath the pads of your feet and make it feel like you’re walking on tiny pebbles.

3. Capsulitis – Women with pain in the ball of the feet may be suffering from capsulitis, a painful inflammation of the joints where the toes attach.

4. Morton’s Neuroma – Another type of pain in the forefoot is caused when nerves become pinched, usually from a tight shoe box that crushes the toes and squeezes the foot. The pain starts in the ball of the foot and radiates along the nerve pathways — down the foot and sometimes up the leg to the knees.

5. Shortened Achilles Tendons – When you wear heels, your ankle raises and your calf muscles are held in a contracted position. As a result, the Achilles tendon connecting the calves to the heels shortens.

6. Plantar Fasciitis – Chronic heel pain is often caused by an inflammation of the connective tissue along the bottom of the foot. According to the LA Timesthe condition is marked by “stabbing pain and agonizing steps followed by a frustratingly slow recovery.”

7. Pump Bump – Haglund’s Deformity (also known as “pump bump”) is a bony enlargement of the heels due to repeated friction caused by strappy shoes. A fluid-filled sac in the heel called the “bursa” often becomes inflamed and painful as well.

8. Bunions – Swollen big toe joints jut out and make it difficult to wear regular shoes. These unwelcome friends are called “bunions.” It’s now largely believed that bunion development is hereditary, but wearing high heels can worsen or hasten the symptoms.

9. Hammer Toes – This foot deformity causes the toes to curl downward and is caused by a muscle / ligament imbalance surrounding the toe joint. Genes, arthritis, toe injury, and shoe choice are all factors in the development of hammer toes.

10. Metatarsalgia – This chronic pain in the ball of the foot (sometimes called a “stone bruise”) occurs when there is too much pressure placed on the forefoot. “The bottom of my foot was so tender it felt as if I was walking on bare bone,” explained 47-year-old dancer Sandy Easby. “I began getting stabbing sensations in my foot, like broken glass,” she added.  

Choosing Smarter Heels

Podiatrists at The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine in NYC have the following recommendations for wearing heels, without sacrificing your health:

– If you must look fashionable at work, wear a different shoe to commute and minimize wear time.

– Stick to a heel that is no more than a few inches tall or offers a platform to decrease the angle.

– Look for shoes with wider bases, such as chunky or wedge shoes.

– Choose a rubber sole over leather, as it is better at absorbing pressure.

– Shop for shoes at the end of the day when your feet are most swollen.

– Opt for shoes with more padding in the ball of the foot or buy after-market cushions to insert.

high heel shoes
You may not need to give up your love of high heel shoes with these practical tips.
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Get A Second Opinion

Before high heel pain begins hindering your day to day life, come see a NY podiatrist to assess how you’re doing. Often, the answers are easier than you may think — ice, rest, wear shoe inserts, take an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory. We also have a number of non-invasive therapies for foot pain that can take the edge off, without requiring you to take any time off work.


If you have any foot problems or pain, contact The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports MedicineDr. Josef J. GeldwertDr. Katherine Lai, Dr. Ryan Minara and Dr. Mariola Rivera have helped thousands of people get back on their feet. Unfortunately, we cannot give diagnoses or treatment advice online. Please make an appointment to see us if you live in the NY metropolitan area or seek out a podiatrist in your area.