Many women put up with the pain and discomfort of wearing high heels, without thinking about the long term consequences and damage they can do to their feet and other areas of their body. Mike O’Neill, Consultant Podiatrist and spokesman for the College of Podiatry explains that: “Under the age of 30 feet are much more mouldable, but years of wearing high heels regularly can still do damage.” To keep feet healthy it’s important to be aware of this damage and how to prevent it. It’s advisable to wear shoes of about an inch in height with adequate support, but as this isn’t always possible there are other ways to avoid injury.
One common foot problem in women is bunions – a bony deformity of the joint at the base of the toe which causes your big toe to point inwards. Although bunions aren’t proven to be caused by inappropriate footwear, wearing the correct shoe size with enough space in the toe box will reduce the chances of them forming or exacerbating the problem. Another common foot condition affecting the toes is Morton’s Neuroma, which is caused by repetitive injury to the nerve in the foot. The side effects of which are numbness or a sharp pain in the toes. Again, the chances of developing this condition can be greatly reduced by avoiding narrow shoes and keeping high heels for occasional use only.
Injury from high heels isn’t contained to the feet, as O’Neill explains: “Many women who wear high heels too often suffer a shortening of the tendon because once the heel is pointed upwards, it tightens up. Stretching it again can be very painful. When you try to put your foot into flat shoes you get a lot of pain in the back of the heel.” To avoid the shortening of the Achilles tendon, O’Neill advises to alternate between high heels, low heels and flats. By doing this your foot won’t get used to being in the same position and the leg muscles won’t shorten as a result.
There isn’t any harm in wearing high heels occasionally for short periods of time, but you have to learn to walk in them to keep the correct posture as you will understandably walk differently to when in flat shoes or low heels. O’Neill explains that “High heels make you raise your heel and as soon as you do that your centre of gravity is pushed forward. What happens then is you bend your lower back to compensate for this and that changes the position of your spine, putting pressure on nerves in the back. This can cause sciatica, a painful condition where nerves become trapped, triggering pain and numbness as far down as the feet.” Practising wearing your new shoes indoors may sound unimportant but it can help you learn to walk correctly, preventing a trapped nerve, and also injury from slipping.
If you wear heels all day, every day for years you could be putting your health at risk. But by swapping the heels for well-fitting trainers when possible, practising walking in heels (however daft it sounds) and making sure that your shoes are the correct fit you could avoid serious long-term damage and injury.
This article was written by Sarah Leeds on behalf of DUO – a retailer of tailored shoes and boots.