A pain in my feet: how to safely choose and wear heels



There is no question that we all love our Jimmy Choos and Louboutins. They make any outfit complete and who doesn’t love automatic leg extensions? Some women even undergo crazy surgeries or fat pad injections to fit into designer footwear. But over the years I have started feeling the wear and tear of heels on my feet, and I hate to break it to you ladies, but those pretty shoes definitely cause some long term damage. Not all is lost though; read on for ways to find heels that are more feet friendly.

The Washington Post came up with an excellent infographic showing all the damaging things heels can do. The list includes shortening of calf muscles, which causes more strain and easier muscle fatigue, development of bunions, calluses, and corns, hammertoes, and numbness in the feet. The problems stem from too much pressure in all the wrong places – base of your big toe and pinky toe, all of your front toes if it’s a narrow shoe box, ankles, knees, and even your back from bad posture. A study done in 2012 comparing heel wearers to non-heel wearers showed that these harmful changes occur even at young ages (study subjects were 25!), meaning you don’t need to wear heels for decades before experiencing these adverse effects.

Washington Post's excellent infographic on how high heels are a pain in the feet

Washington Post’s excellent infographic on how high heels are a true pain in the feet

So what’s a gal to do? Don’t worry, I’m not going to say you should never wear heels. The key is to save the heels for special times when you really need them. I’m talking fancy occasions with minimal walking involved. Or do what the women of NYC do – get to your destination in flats and bring your heels in a bag to change into. Also, be smart about how you choose your heels. Thicker heels or wedges give you more base support than a thin stiletto, and go for heels with a gradual slant instead of a steep slope from heel to toe. It goes without saying to buy heels that are a great fit for your foot size; heels too big or small will cause even more pressure on those tender spots in your feet. Use soft insoles for cushioning, choose heels with a rubber sole which is more shock absorbent, and don’t forget to stretch your feet and calves after a long day in heels. Try to alternate footwear as well; if you wear heels for a long time one day, opt for flats or a wedge the next to give your feet a break.

What experience do you have with wearing heels? Any tips on reducing foot fatigue from these pretty shoes?

16 Comments on A pain in my feet: how to safely choose and wear heels

  1. Denise
    October 16, 2014 at 7:42 pm (3 years ago)

    I have definitely heard about this! So sad. Seriously, my louboutins are never comfy, but who wears them for comfort! Great info here. Thanks for sharing.


    • Joyce
      October 17, 2014 at 1:22 am (3 years ago)

      The thin slippery sole on Loubies makes them especially unstable for walking, but I’ll admit, those red soles are so irresistable. I know of some gals who have gotten their Louboutins re-soled with rubber on the outsole portion (the only part that touches the ground) for better grip, which is a pretty good idea if the soles are scratched up anyways after a lot of wear and tear. In any event, saving these shoes for special occasions is key!

  2. Pru Yeo
    October 17, 2014 at 7:18 pm (3 years ago)

    I used to wear heels to work everyday and as a result, developed calluses that were quite painful. Due to a change in my work schedule, I no longer need to wear heels for long hours. So glad to be able to wear flats nowadays as they are so much more comfortable!


    • Joyce
      October 18, 2014 at 12:18 am (3 years ago)

      Glad you found shoes that fit your work schedule :)

    • Joyce
      October 18, 2014 at 7:25 pm (3 years ago)

      That is a neat tip Janet! Those shoes are cute by the way; I love the one in the leather haircalf and it is a steal at $49. Too bad I’m a size 4.5!

  3. Kerry-Ann
    October 18, 2014 at 11:34 am (3 years ago)

    I love wearing heels to work, but since I walk and stand alot I’ve resorted to wedges and low heeled pumps. Most of my stillettos have some sort of insole for cushioning; you can get these gel insoles for the footpads, heel pads and insteps or for the whole shoe. I have a high arch, so padding the instep makes such a difference in the comfort of the shoe.
    Also, I’ve started to get a paraffin wax with mani/ pedi about once per month. We use parrafin wax for post operative patients in hand surgery clinics, and it helps soften scars, improve range of motion and possibly even helps post/ op pain. What’s good for my patients is good for me, and the extra $10 is totally worth it :)

    • Joyce
      October 18, 2014 at 3:40 pm (3 years ago)

      Dr. S, did you know that you inspired me to start getting pedicures? Thank you for your awesome tips from a plastic surgeon’s perspective. I will definitely have to try the paraffin wax. What a useful application of something we do in the clinic to our own lives!

      PS do you mean you don’t operate in heels 😛

  4. betty.mac@gmail.com
    October 18, 2014 at 11:38 am (3 years ago)

    OMG I feel this post was made for me. Ha ha. In LA it was never very hard to wear heels everywhere but that was because I had to drive everywhere as well. Since I work in the financial district in SF and have to take muni to work everyday, it’s no longer plausible for me to wear heels everywhere. I def wear ballet flats to walk and I leave a couple of pairs of heels in my office so I can change into them when I get to work. Love your articles, Joyce!!

    • Joyce
      October 18, 2014 at 3:39 pm (3 years ago)

      Betty, this post was written exactly for gals like you! Leaving heels in the office is such a great solution, because you can still have the shoes to complete your outfit but forego the pain and damage that walking in heels causes. Smart!

  5. stylishlyinlove
    October 20, 2014 at 9:58 am (3 years ago)

    Thanks for sharing this great and informative post. Great stuff.

    Hope you had a wonderful weekend.


    • Joyce
      October 20, 2014 at 6:52 pm (3 years ago)

      Thanks for stopping by Sofia! Love the pleated skirt in your latest post.

  6. Petiteish
    October 21, 2014 at 8:24 pm (3 years ago)

    I’ve had about 4 knee surgeries since a fateful skiing accident about 7 years ago, so heels are definitely hard for me, especially going down stairs/down hill. I save them for special occasions, and stick to flats, danskos (ugly, but so great for standing for long hours), and sneakers (even better than danskos for walking and probably best for my knee, at least according to my surgeon). Even with flats though, the ones with poor padding can be hard on my arthritic knee, so if they’re roomy, I put a foam insert in. I like the spenco inserts (usually <$10 on amazon), which you can trim to any size. I put them in my roomy heels too.
    Have you heard about the trick with taping your first 2 toes together when wearing heels to relieve some discomfort? It doesn't sound all that scientific to me, but I'm curious to try it since so many women seem to believe it works. Placebo effect?

    • Joyce
      October 22, 2014 at 6:06 am (3 years ago)

      Petiteish, I’m so sorry to hear about those knee surgeries! I know they have a long recovery period and many complications. I hope you get better soon. I am with you on the foamy inserts. I also find that flats without good support are just as painful as heels, and I like the inserts from Nordstrom Rack or Aldo. I actually haven’t heard about the trick you described but I’ll have to try it out myself. I can’t think through why that would help relieve the pressure and pain from heels though.

  7. Petite Hmong Mommy
    June 21, 2015 at 11:38 pm (2 years ago)

    Yes, definitely need to rotate. I cannot do heels everyday. 😛

    • Joyce
      June 29, 2015 at 12:46 pm (2 years ago)

      Now that I’m in NYC I’m quickly learning the power of the walking in flats and heels in the bag for work kind of deal 😛


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