According to a recent study found on the US National Library of Medicine’s website, women who wore proper footwear are 67% less likely to report foot pain than those who wore heels on a regular basis. Prolonged use of heels among women obviously causes short-term pain and swelling but when combined with foot deformities, the short-term pain can easily become long term. The swelling issues and frequency can be aggravating and the intensity of foot pain can become intolerable. The pain brought on by wearing high heels is a result of the added pressure to the heel and forefoot, stretching of the plantar fascia and shortening of the Achilles tendon. This can lead to several foot problems including plantar fasciitis, metatarsalgia, shortened Achilles tendon that requires painful stretching to correct, bunions, and hammertoes.
Additionally, wearing shoes that are too small restrict the space the metatarsal bones need to fully extend limiting range of motion while creating healing issues and muscle cramping. The diagrams below illustrate areas of excess pressure and the unnatural positions the bones of the foot are forced into. As you can see the bones of the foot beginning at the metatarsal heads are bearing weight vertically. The bones of the foot are intended to bear weight horizontally. Although there is no certainty of the exact cause of hallux valgus (bunions) and other foot conditions, let’s take a closer look at where and how heels negatively affect your feet.
In the above diagram you can see that the foot does not get any arch support from the high heel. Arch support prevents heel spurs and pain.
Upon further observation, the use of shoes that are too narrow and restrictive appear to contribute to the curving shape of the big toe. The result of added pressure and unnatural shifting that occurs from wearing heels affects the base of the joint on the big toe causing it to turn inward (above diagram).
Hammertoes, a permanent deformity of the toe joint, is another foot condition that combined with inappropriate footwear can be traumatic to foot health. Hammertoes usually affect the second toe as seen here (left diagram), however, the third and fourth toe are also at risk.
Causes of hammertoes include bunions, rheumatoid arthritis, and ill-fitting footwear. Corns and calluses (accumulation of dead skin cells) often accompany hammertoes because protruding toes rub against the box area of shoes causing hardened skin. These types of foot conditions combined with prolonged use of restrictive footwear can cause intense pain to your feet and can even result in surgery in some cases.
Although, there is no proven correlation between these foot conditions and wearing heels, it is evident that wearing restricting footwear can certainly exacerbate or accelerate the process of developing these foot conditions. As demonstrated in the diagrams above, the foot begins to take on the shape of the ergonomically incorrect design of the shoe and is roughened by the abrasive material.
So, is it worth it to wear heels? Wearing the appropriate footwear, even though it may not be a designer brand, has some credible long-term benefits. The increasing need for ergo-dynamic shoes that are innovative and stylish continues to grow, resulting in more fashionable options to accommodate those who can't let go of those vertically inclined foot platforms. Choosing the right balance between fashion and comfort is the best thing you can do to ensure healthy feet.