You love the way high-heeled shoes make you look, but you probably don’t like what they’re doing to your feet, legs, and even your posture. High-heeled shoes are responsible for a number of podiatric and mechanical problems that should give you pause.
At Chicagoland Foot and Ankle, board-certified podiatrist Dr. Robert Sheffey and our team care about the health of your feet, which is why we want you to understand the consequences of wearing high-heeled shoes.
Normally, your foot balances on both its front and back, so your weight is evenly distributed. But a high-heeled shoe forces your weight forward, placing additional pressure on the ball of your foot.
Over time, the joints in the ball become painful, a condition known as metatarsalgia, and if the pressure isn’t lifted, you can even experience stress fractures in the joint’s bones.
You can limit the pressure and pain by limiting your time in heels, as well as reducing the height of the heel. Research from the Spinal Health Institute indicates that 3-inch heels put 76% of your foot’s pressure on the ball, but 2-inch heels decrease that pressure to about 57%, and 1-inch heels decrease it to 22%.
In addition, by placing excessive pressure on the balls of your feet, your knees and hips have to push forward and your back has to hyperextend backward so you don’t tip forward. This misaligns the entire skeleton and can translate into leg, hip, and back pain.
Your Achilles tendon stretches from the back of your heel all the way up your calf, lengthening and shortening with foot movement. When your toes are pointed and your heel rises toward your calf — as when you’re wearing heels — the tendon shortens.
Too much shortening, though, is a bad thing. The tendon can get used to being in a shortened state, causing you pain and discomfort if you try to walk in flats or barefoot.
The Achilles tendon also connects to the plantar fascia, a thick ligament band that reaches from your heel to your toes along the bottom of your foot.
Shortening the tendon too much pulls on the plantar fascia, stressing it and causing pain in the heel and inflammation of the ligament. The resulting condition is known as plantar fasciitis.
The forward pressure and the often accompanying narrow toe box puts additional stress on the front part of your foot, leading to structural problems.
Bunions occur when the toe joint at the base of your big toe gets pushed out of alignment. It forms a swollen, bony bump that may be red or blistered from rubbing against the shoe and may be painful when you step on the foot.
While heels aren’t directly responsible for bunion formation, if you have a genetic propensity toward bunions, they can exacerbate the condition.
Squeezing the toes together can also lead to hammertoes, a condition when the second, third, and/or fourth toe curves into a hammer shape. The mid-joint of the toe often rubs against the top of the shoe, leading to corns, calluses, and blisters.
Heel spurs (calcium buildup on the bone) and arthritis are also possible complications.
Heels with pointy toes and a small toe box can also lead to pinched nerves, which become irritated or inflamed and lead to constant pain. The most common neurological problem is called Morton's neuroma, which occurs on the ball of the foot, usually between the third and fourth toes.
With all the machinations your body has to go through for you to keep your balance when you wear high-heeled shoes, it shouldn’t be a surprise that your ankles, which need to constantly adjust, can easily twist, leading to sprains and strains of the ankle and foot.
As we mentioned earlier, when you shift the pressure forward on your foot, your center of gravity changes, so your legs, hips, and back have to compensate. Unfortunately, it’s your knees that bear the brunt of the change as they try to support your weight in an upright position.
A 2014 study showed that increasing the height of your heels places inordinate stress on your knees, possibly even increasing your risk for developing arthritis, chronic inflammation of the joint.
If you want to learn more about the effect of high-heeled shoes on your feet, or if you need treatment for any podiatric-related problem, call at any of our Chicago-area locations, or book your appointment online today. Our offices are located in the Mount Greenwood and Portage Park areas of Chicago, as well as Orland Park and New Lenox, Illinois.