Hell on Heels

“It changes the mechanics of the joints,” said Dr. John DeWitt, clinical assistant professor of health and rehabilitation sciences at The Ohio State University, as well as a physical therapist at OSU sports medicine for 10 years. “It shifts the weight forward and that can put a strain on the lower back, knees, hips and ankles.”

The majority of that force goes straight to your knees, DeWitt said.

“A lot of that is because of the flex position of the knee that happens when you walk in high heels,” he said. “There’s more force on the quads and the knee cap, the patella. Anywhere from 25 percent to 80 percent more pressure.”

High heels also increase stress and pressure on the foot and ankle, particularly the big toe, as well as the ball of your foot.

“The biggest issue is ankle instability,” he said, pointing in particular to high heels that are more spike than wedge. “The muscles around the ankle have to work harder. We see increased incidents of ankle sprains in individuals who wear high heels.”

And let’s not forget the bunyons, blisters, crushed toes and general soreness that looking hot in heels requires. Despite all this discomfort, DeWitt said wearing high heels is unlikely to cause serious long-term issues, though they can bug you in other ways.

“High heels can irritate other existing problems. Heels push you forward and cause more force to the joints. That increases the potential for pain and inflammation,” Dewitt said, adding that if wearing high heels causes pain that alters your normal daily routine, you should see a doctor. “The bottom line is listen to your body.”

And take precautions. Or, as the good doctor said, “wear with care.”

“Lower the heel, wear a wider wedge, wear an insert or orthotic made for high heels. Those can put the foot into a position where they can tolerate it a little more,” DeWitt said. “And any opportunity a woman has, she should take off her high heels and stretch.”

Get this—you can also condition your body for high-heel wearing.

“Make sure you have a strong core and your hips are balanced and strong. Regular exercise is beneficial,” he said, then added, “Just don’t run in those heels.”

Tips for alleviating the pain of high heels. Buy heels…

• With a rubber heel instead of leather

• With good padding at the balls of the feet

• That have a gradual slope

• That are 2-inches high or less

• At the end of the day, when your foot is swollen, so you know how much space you need

More tips:

• Take off your high heels during the day, whenever you can, to flex your foot and stretch your calves—pull your toes back for an additional foot stretch

• During your workouts, complete core exercises and those that strengthen your hips and balance, such as single-leg exercises and hip bridges

• Soak your feet in mineral water and rub the bottom of your foot with a tennis ball

• Stretch your quadriceps to alleviate knee tension