The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine

The Dangers of High Heels: We Discuss Early Warning Signs That High Heels Are Wrecking Your Feet

Posted by on Thursday, December 24th, 2015


Women’s Health Magazine reports that even a one-inch heel puts 22% more pressure on the ball of the foot than flat shoes.1 Two inches can add up to 57% and three inches can add a whopping 76% in pressure placed on the feet! The throbbing and aching after a spell of wearing heels is usually nothing some over-the-counter pain reliever or a foot massage can’t help, but long-term damage could be happening behind the scenes that could require more expensive treatments and longer healing times later on.

What are the dangers of high heels? We give you some signs to look for to make sure heels aren’t damaging your feet. Image source: Flickr CC user Emilio Labrador

1. Calluses

Early Warning Sign for: Bunions

Thickened patches of skin called calluses are most often caused by ill-fitting shoes, but can also alert you to the fact that excess pressure is being placed on the skin and its underlying structures.2 Over time, imbalanced pressure could lead to a misaligned foot and bunion development along the pinky or big toes. There are ways to slow the progression of a bunion, but the only way to “fix” a bunion is through surgery with a minimum of six weeks downtime.

2. Ingrown Toenails

Early Warning Sign for: Tendon Damage

Ingrown toenails are a common condition among high heel wearers in which the nail grows into the soft tissue of the toe, rather than upward and outward.3 Narrow toe-boxes and restricted foot movement cause your toes to bend in an unnatural position, which not only causes ingrown toenails, but also irreversible damage to soft tissue in the legs. One study found that the calf muscles were 13% shorter in high heel wearers.4 Furthermore, their Achilles tendons were stiffer and thicker. These differences led to long-term soreness, even when not wearing high heels.

3. Fractures

Early Warning Sign for: Arthritis

High heel wearers are at increased risk of lateral ankle fractures or sprains. “Past injuries or traumas, such as a broken or sprained toe, can cause arthritis to settle in down the road,” reports Healthline.5 It’s believed that 10 to 15% of osteoarthritis patients actually have post-traumatic arthritis. Researchers have found that PTA can develop in as little as six months when the cells that produce bone morphogenetic protein, type II collagen, and proteoglycan stop functioning.6 While scientists are not entirely sure how to prevent these developments following injury, it’s recommended that individuals wear proper footwear (rounded toes, less than one-inch heel with shock-absorbent soles), choose the right athletic shoe for the sports activity they regularly participate in (rather than generic “cross-trainers” or running shoes), and see a doctor if stiffness, warmth, and pain are a regular issue.7

4. Calf Tightness

Early Warning Sign for: Plantar Fasciitis

We often find that our plantar fasciitis sufferers have short, tight, weak calf muscles. As we mentioned earlier, one of the dangers of high heels is their tendency to contribute to this structural change. Also, if you are not engaged in a strength-training program that involves stretching and strengthening the calf muscles, you are at increased risk of developing severe, chronic heel pain. The first signs of plantar fasciitis can be tightness in the calves after exercise or a long day on one’s feet.

NYC Foot Care and Footwear Counseling

The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine in New York City is not just a sports medicine clinic for people rehabilitating from injury. While we do offer the latest and greatest scientific advances in the treatment of foot and ankle injuries, we also serve as an repository of information for people who wish to know more about injury prevention and maintaining a healthy, active lifestyle. We can help you find suitable footwear for work and formal occasions that won’t wreck your feet, choose the right athletic shoes for the sports you love, and assess the current state of your gait and foot physiology. If you live in the Manhattan or Westchester area, stop by and see us!



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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.