The “high” fashion with a high health risk

The right shoes can make you look great, but certain stylish footwear can cause serious muscle imbalances that lead to injuries when you wear them too often.

Research examining how your feet react to wearing high heels confirms what many women have experienced: Shoes with elevated heels can lead to muscle problems as well as foot and heel pain.

According to one study, wearing high heels (shoes with heels of about 4 inches or more), causes the muscles of the lower foot to become unbalanced. That can lead to ankle injuries when you wear them more than a couple of times a week.

And when researchers took a look at the foot health of people involved in the Framingham Heart Study, they found that women who frequently wore high heels and pumps experienced much more ankle and heel pain.

In a European study, they found that wearing high heels does alter pelvic positions and “could lead to long-term pathologic alterations.”

And in a clinical trial published in the Journal of Applied Biomechanics, high heels might be the single most significant reason that more women than men get osteoarthritis of the knee.

Of course many of my friends believe that a little discomfort is worth it to be fashionable. That being said, you still should probably limit your high heel use to special occasions.

Researchers at the Institute for Aging Research of Hebrew SeniorLife at Harvard recommend that when you shop for shoes:

  • Don’t consider fashion at all, but comfort. Except that’s not realistic, so at least go for comfort first and fashion second.
  • Don’t rely on the manufacturer’s size designation. Brands differ in how they determine sizes so just go by how they feel.
  • Have both of your feet measured each time you go to buy shoes. Your foot size increases as you get older.
  • Buy shoes that fit your larger foot. (For most people, one foot is larger than the other.)
  • Don’t buy high-heels and shoes that have tapered or pointed toes.
  • Try on shoes later in the day when your feet are at their biggest. (They swell a little as the day goes on.)
  • Walk in the shoes in the store to make sure they fit comfortably.
  • While you are wearing the shoes, wiggle your toes to make sure they can move freely.

If you feel uncomfortable wearing shoes at work that are lower to the ground, you can do what I’ve seen many commuters in New York do: Wear supportive walking shoes on your way into work and then switch to more high-fashion footwear once you are ensconced at the office. That should save your feet and save face with your colleagues.


Carl Lowe

By Carl Lowe

has written about health, fitness and nutrition for a wide range of publications including Prevention Magazine, Self Magazine and Time-Life Books. The author of more than a dozen books, he has been gluten-free since 2007.