How High Heels Affect Your Body

High heels were an ancient invention designed for both men and women. However, as time passed, they came to be identified with women only. And some of these heels have women tottering perilously over at the expense of their health. There’s a new movement though as women realize how their health is affected by their precious stilettos. The Business Insider reports that sales of high heels have suffered by 17%  as more women are ditching their heels. On the other hand, women’s sneaker sales have increased by 37%.

High heels 1

Swapping high heels for sneakers.

History Of High Heels

High heels date back to 3500 BC where they were depicted on Egyptian murals. They were worn by both men and women for ceremonial purposes. The ancient Greeks and Romans invented the platform shoes called buskins with high wooden cork soles. It was mainly worn by stage actors. By the Middle Ages, they started turning into an aesthetic object for women. Various patterns were created and they could be as high as 30 inches above the ground requiring canes to walk.

In 1590, the French men and women associated it with fashion. This was started by Catherine de Medici and later Mary Tudor. The rest of the populace followed in making it a necessary fashion accessory. Since legs were mostly covered it was all about presenting a smaller foot. Later, as hemlines went up, it became more about elongating the legs. With time men ditched the heels as their shoes became wider and sturdier.

men and women shoes
Men’s shoes became wider and women’s shoes ended up being higher.

High Heel Statistics

Today 49% of women between the ages of 18-24 wear high heels daily. 42% of women between the ages of 25 and 29 wear them every day while working. 77% of women wear them only for special occasions. High heels do tend to affect your posture and gait. Those four-inch heels come with a price.

How High Heels Affect The Anatomy?

There is published medical evidence suggesting that high heels result in an increased risk of bunions, musculoskeletal pains, varicose veins and stress fractures among other injuries. High heels tend to alter your center of gravity. To maintain balance, women tend to pitch forward with their hips and spine. The calf, hip, and back muscles tense and experience muscle fatigue.

Also with heels, since the back and spine are unaligned and pushed forward, extra pressure develops on the knee joint and balls of the feet through a downward force. Here’s a list of all the health problems associated with high heels.

Back Pain

While high heels can give you height and self-confidence, they are not made for comfort. Their shape and arches tend to provide inadequate support for your feet. Your weight tends to be unequally distributed. And the back muscles bear the brunt of this as it triggers inflammation, soreness, and lower back pain. This condition is called lumbar lordosis where the lordotic curve of the lumbar spine increases.

Calf Pain

When you wear high heels, the calf tendon muscle unit gets shortened. Muscles and tendons are malleable. That is they tend to get affected by the repetitive activity. Chronic use of high heels will lead to shortening of the calf tendon muscle unit over time. Studies have proven this. This, in turn, reduces the range of motion of the ankle joint.

Painful Feet

The raised arches for prolonged periods of time can cause your ankles, toes, and soles to become painful. Sometimes this pain radiates upwards. Rheumatologists now suggest that shoes and footwear may be a modifiable factor when it comes to arthritis-related disorders.

Ankle Sprains

Ankle sprain
Ankle sprains are common because the Achilles tendon is more susceptible.

The Achilles tendon tends to be thicker and stiffer among non-wearers of high heels. So in high heel wearers, the tendon is already susceptible to injury. Roads aren’t really meant for high heels and if you fall or land on the sidewalk, there’s a possibility of an ankle sprain and worse an ankle fracture. The International Journal of Clinical Practice published a study where they found that women wearing 10-cm high heels more than thrice a week had significantly weaker ankles after just a few weeks.

Spinal Curvature

High heels to tend to cause the back and hips to arch out more. However, the higher the heel, the wider the arch. Turns out heel height is directly proportional to the degree of the arch. This can also precipitate lower back pain.

Varicose veins

High heels change your gait. It causes the weight to shift to the forefoot and toes. This forces the calf muscles to stay contracted. Contracted muscles result in a decrease in the filling of the foot and calf veins. The calf muscle pump also is less effective in its contracted state. This causes pooling of venous blood in the legs. Aka varicose veins.

Hammertoes and Bunions

Often the shape of the shoes and front ends force toes into unnatural positions. When forced into these positions for long hours they force the toes to become what is now called hammertoes. One or both joints bend due to the weakness of the foot muscles.

You may assume this is harmless but it’s dangerous. The permanent hyperextension position affects the distribution of weight across the foot, affecting the other toes and the calves. Bunions are when the big toe starts leaning towards the foot. It looks very unappealing and can be corrected with surgery. Bunions increase the risk of osteoarthritis. They also increase the risk of falls.

Knee Pain

As a result of the lordotic spine and the need to balance the center of gravity, the knees bear much of the weight. Over time the joint pain can turn into osteoarthritis. The knee flexion angle at heel-strike and midstance increase as heel height increases. Wearing high heels produces changes in the knee joint that is also seen in aging and osteoarthritis progression.

Knee pain

High heels put undue pressure on the knee joint.

Stress fractures

With excessive pressure on the ball of the foot among high heels wearers, the metatarsal bones also experience increased pressure. This produces a painful condition at the ball of the foot called metatarsalgia. As the metatarsalgia gets worse, the added pressure can cause stress fractures in the foot.

Deformed toenails

Not just the joint but the toenails also bear the brunt of high heels. With the weight of the entire body bearing down, the pressure on the front of the foot results in squashed toes. This is even worse in pointed shoes. With time the toenails get damaged and are at risk for fungal infections. Fungal infections of the nail are difficult to treat and require medication for months.

Now that you know how it affects your body, think twice before you step into that set of heels.

How Long Does It Take To Affect You?

You don’t have to wear heels often to be at risk for bunions, hammertoes, and other serious foot injuries. It can take as much as five to ten years to develop any of the above injuries. Their variability may also depend on how many hours you spend wearing your heels.

How To Diminish The Damage

So if you wear heels constantly how can you diminish the damage it wreaks on your body? Here are a few steps to reduce the damage.

Wear Lower Heels Or Wedges


Choose wedges and smaller heels.

The higher the heel, the worse is the arch. And the more your spine has to curve. The American Podiatric Medical Association recommends wearing smaller heels. Or suggests wedges or heels less than two inches. While these are their recommendations, wedges aren’t great for your feet either.  It’s just that the platform reduces the incline or arch. This helps you balance the weight and lessens the pressure on the ball of your foot.

Choose Shoes With A Wider Toe

Instead of a narrow-toed shoe, pick a wider toe-box which allows the most natural position of your foot. This should have more room at the front, allowing your toes space. The nerves, joints, and bones can evenly distribute your weight, and nothing will be damaged by the unnatural position.

Change Your Heel Height

Switch up your heel heights every day. If you were the same heel length every day, the Achilles tendon and the calf tendon muscle units tend to get shortened. If you switch heel heights every day, the muscles and tendons have a chance to stretch.

Limit The Time In High Heels


Limit your time in heels.

Lots of people do this. They arrive at an event in flats and then switch to heels at the event. One thing you should do is track home much time you spend in high heels. A good rule of thumb is to keep the time you spend in high heels at about three hours.

Can You Undo The Damage Already Done?

To some extent yes. If you feel like you’ve already spent more time wearing heels than most women, then ditch them. Use flat soled shoes so that your muscles get accustomed to the new stretch. The American Osteopathic Association recommends stretches and strengthening exercises to help prevent the damage from wearing high heels. You should do these stretches before and after you’ve worn heels. If possible do them during the day too.


Stretches are important before and after you wear heels.

The Plantar Fascia Stretch

This is also called the high heel stretch. It works on relaxing the hamstrings and alleviates back pain. Keep a book with a one-inch spine on the floor. As you stand, place the ball of your right foot on the thick book. Rest the heel on the ground. Lean forward slightly at the waist and hold for thirty seconds then switch to the other side. You can try to grab the toes. Repeat two or three times. Gradually increase the height of the book weekly to about three inches.

Heel Walking

Practice walking around on your heels. This is done by pointing your toes upwards. Do this for as long as you can multiple times a day. What heel walking does is stretches out the calf muscle. It also strengthens the Achilles tendon.

Tap The Toes

This can be done by sitting with your feet flat on the floor. Raise them up, keeping the heel flat and tapping the foot up and down as if tapping to the music. This stretches the muscles in the sole of the foot and the ankle.

Heel Raises

Do heel raises. This stretches the Achilles tendon and strengthens the calf muscles. Stand on a flat surface.  Raise yourself onto your toes and slowly lower it back down to the ground.

Repeat these stretches often in a week. After a few weeks, you will find your calf muscles and Achilles tendon, less stiff.

Preventing High Heel Health Problems

You can prevent health issues associated with high heels by taking the following steps.

Avoid High Heels

The first thing you can do is avoid high heels. Reserve them only for special occasions. Even if you do wear them, cap the time you’re spending in them to less than three hours.

Buy Shoes At The End Of The Day

Too many women buy high heel shoes at the beginning of the day. However, as the day wears on, feet swell. Women tend to squish their feet into shoes that are at least half a size too small. So buy your shoes at the end of the day.

Avoid Pointed Shoes

Pointed shoes

Avoid pointed shoes.

Pointed shoes tend to have less room at the front for the toes, leading to bunions and hammertoes. Use a rounder shoe instead.

Vary Your Footwear

We’ve already mentioned how you must change your footwear to allow muscles to stretch. Also, use thicker heels as they spread the weight evenly. They also reduce the chances of you spraining your ankle.

High Heels Revolution

The shoe industry is facing decreasing high heels sales. Women have come to realize the detrimental effects of high heels on their musculature and bones.  Ultimately, you have to make the choice. There are so many alternatives in the market today. High heels can affect your spine, muscles, tendons, and bones. Some of these effects may begin insidiously and may only be treated through surgical correction. So choose your shoes wisely. Actress, Kristen Stewart began a revolution when she peeled off her high heels and walked barefoot on the red carpet at the Cannes Film festival. Maybe it’s time, women everywhere followed suit.