The Verdict is In: High Heels Put Your Feet at Risk

In another classic case of science-proving-stuff-that-you-knew-all-along, a medical research team out of South Korea found that in the long-term, wearing high heels can put your feet at risk of injury.

high-heels-and-foot-injuriesWhat woman can resist a stunning pair of heels? Not many of us, apparently: almost 8 in 10 women say they wear them pretty much every day, even though they start hurting the feet after about an hour.

And yet, foot and ankle specialists warn against wearing them too often, or even at all. Heels force the foot into an unnatural position, where the toes squeeze together at the bottom of the incline at the front, and the heel teeters on an increasingly high wedge or stiletto. They offer little to no support through the foot and force the wearer to front-load her weight in order to walk.

The study comes at the heels of startling news. Recently, the Journal of Foot and Ankle Surgery reported a staggering increase in high-heel related sprains, with around 7,000 in 2002 to a little over 14,000 in 2012. We’re not sure exactly why there’s been such a dramatic increase, but we hope we can provide you with some valuable insights to help you avoid an ankle injury in your future.

What’s the Risk of Wearing Heels?

x-ray+of+a+foot+in+high+heelsHeels, especially with pointy toes, increase your chances of developing a bunion, among other painful and unhealthy structural conditions. But new research shows that long term wear can also increase your chances spraining your ankle.

Think wearing tall heels strengthens your ankle muscles? Think again.

“While wearing high-heeled shoes appeared to strengthen ankle muscles at first, prolonged use eventually caused an imbalance, which is a crucial predictor of ankle injury.”

Foot and ankle specialists have long studied the effect of high heels on wearers’ feet, but because it’s difficult to design a study like this over such an extended period of time, they’ve had difficulty pinning the blame for conditions such as arthritis on specific footwear.

However, this new study shows that wearing 4 inch heels more than three times per week for at least four years weakens some functional ankle muscles while strengthening others, leading to a dangerous imbalance which may result in a sprain.

What Can I Do to Lower My Risk of Injury?

If you must wear heels, do your feet a favor and strength train your ankles. Dr. Yong-Seok Jee advises toe tapping and heel raises, as well as walking on the heels of the feet each day to help balance your ankle muscles. These exercises are so easy, you can even do them while on break at work!

You can support your ankles by choosing shoes with thicker heels, like wedges. Keep your heels shorter, under 1.5 cm, and pick up a pair of supportive insoles at the pharmacy to lower the impact on your joints.

Of course, we also recommend wearing heels less often. Wear them at most three days per week, and alternate with something more comfy.

The gods of fashion are cruel and demanding. When will flats be in style again?

University Foot and Ankle Institute has 9 state-of-the-art locations throughout Southern California. Our physicians have decades of combined experience and are nationally recognized experts in the treatment of foot and ankle conditions. If you would like to schedule a consultation, please call us at (877) 989-9110 or visit us at www.footankleinstitute.com.

2 comments

  1. What height of heel do you recommend for patients with restricted ankle dorsiflexion?

    • University Foot & Ankle Institute Staff

      Greetings,

      Good question! The absolute maximum is one-half of an inch, though we highly recommend that our patients try their darnedest to not go above a quarter of an inch.

      I hope this helps!

      Bob

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