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Foot Health: Wearing high heels over many years can lead to problems; here’s 7 of them

By Dr. Sarah Voelkel
KyForward columnist

We can’t speculate on why women want to wear high heels, we just know that many do and many come to us for high heel-related issues. Hey, we’re not immune. We like them, too. We just have to be ready to accept the potential dangers of overuse.

Look, we’re all pretty smart. We know that high heels aren’t necessarily good for our feet, but you may not realize that the cumulative effects of wearing these shoes over many years can be devastating.

Common foot issues exasperated by high heels:

1 feet

Bunions: Because of the narrow toe region of high heels, the big toe is forced to deviate toward the second toe and the angles of the bones change. This creates the bunion bump…and a lot of pain associated with it.

Neuroma: The narrow toe box and high heels force excessive weight on the ball of the foot. This can cause inflamed and thickened nerves in the ball of the foot.

Hammertoes: Forcing your foot into a high heel shoe can make you grip your toes to stabilize your foot when you’re walking. In time, this can cause them to form hammertoes; the narrow toe box also causes the toes to curl due to lack of room. They can be super painful when they rub the inside top of your shoe.

Corns and calluses: These form when there is abnormal pressure on the ball of the foot and you are squeezing your toes into a narrow shoe. They can become progressively more painful and even limit your walking ability.

Ankle injuries: High heels are more often than not, incredibly unstable and they place your foot in an unstable position. This combination is perfect for an ankle sprain injury (some even suffer ankle fractures).

Heel pain: When heel pain is related to high heels, it most commonly is Achilles tendonitis or plantar fasciitis (the most common cause of heel pain we treat).

Back pain: High heels place your feet in an abnormal position and therefore change the way your weight is distributed throughout your joints from your ankles and knees, to your hips and lower back. This force can worsen or increase your back pain over time.

Limiting your time in high heels is important, they should not be the shoe you wear all day each work day. Avoid shoes with a narrow toe box (pointy-toe shoes). Avoid heels greater than 2 inches. A wedge-style high heel with a wider toe box is better than the traditional high heel shoe. When you feel pain in your feet, immediately change your shoes to a more comfortable and supportive shoe.

We know you you’re probably not going to avoid your heels altogether, so talk to your podiatrist about a custom insert to fit inside your high heels to make them as comfortable as possible. While these can make your shoes more comfortable, they cannot prevent every possible problem.


Dr. Sarah Voelkel is a foot and ankle surgeon at Lexington Podiatry and the Kentucky Heel Pain Center.

For more Foot Health columns, click here.

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