Taking the hurt out of high heels



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If you love shoes, chances are you probably also love high heels. They look good, they can make us feel good and, perhaps by lending us a few more inches in height, they can boost our confidence. Unfortunately, once you hit the 2-inch mark, you can start doing some serious damage to your toes, feet, legs and back.

The higher the heel, the greater the slope — and it's the slope that can cause pain and leave you walking like this:


So is there a compromise for those of us who want our heels and wear them, too? Can we get a few extra inches in height and a spring in our step without the pain and potential injury?


The key, says Sajid A. Surve, DO — who sees patients experiencing pain or injuries from high heel use on a weekly basis — is to focus on the angle between the ball of the foot and the heel when selecting footwear. The more acute the angle the shoe creates, the greater your discomfort will be.

Dr. Surve, co-director of the Texas Center for Performing Arts Health and an associate professor at the University of North Texas Health Science Center — Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine, notes that a five-inch heel with a two-inch platform will cause less pain than a four-inch heel and no platform.

"Our bodies aren't built to bear weight on the ball of the foot. They're designed for weight to be dispersed from the ball through the arch and heel. A comfortable heel has a more gradual slope down to the ball of the foot so that weight is more evenly distributed," Dr. Surve explained.

The American Osteopathic Association recommends you consider the following if you want to take the hurt out of those heels:

  • Say yes to platforms, which create a gentler slope between the ball of the foot and the heel.
  • No squeezing! A narrow, pointy shoe is the worst choice for comfort and can cause bunions.
  • Don't go big. Loose shoes cause friction, blisters, bleeding and toe nail ripping, so maintain a bit of snugness in the fit.
  • Stay away from stilettos. A thicker heel spreads your weight more evenly and decreases the risk of ankle injuries.
  • Arch support is critical for servers and others who mostly walk at work. Avoid flats and heels whenever possible.
  • For those who stand for long periods, it's all about the sole of the shoe. Look for maximum cushioning.

If you mostly sit at a desk, take your heels off and stretch out your feet a few times a day. And if you need to wear heels for significant portions of your day, regardless of how high they are, then it's really important to perform calf stretches regularly to counteract the long-term effects of the shoes on your body.