Many of us can’t live without our high heels and don’t want to ditch our heels even when we know they’re uncomfortable. We wear them on date night, at the office, and even to the grocery store. We tend to overlook the pain and believe that blisters and hammertoes are just part of living life as a true fashionista. But that doesn’t have to be the case.
It’s no secret high heels create more stress on the body than flats. According to the Spine Health Institute, wearing high heels causes us to work harder to maintain balance as we walk, and, as a result, our hip and back muscles tense up, which leads to muscle strain, fatigue, and even cramping. Even so, beauty doesn’t necessarily have to be synonymous with pain… not in this case. We can still enjoy the glamorous look of high heels without feeling like our feet are going to fall off at the end of the day.
From wearing high heels every minute of the day to walking incorrectly in them, there are many mistakes we make when wearing high heels. However, this doesn’t mean there aren’t practical solutions to our high heel-wearing problems.
Wearing high heels all day can lead to these painful conditions
If you can’t imagine going a day without wearing your favorite heels, you may want to rethink how long you wear them for, podiatric surgeon Jackie Sutera, DPM, told Self. "When you are in any kind of shoe that has elevation or a heel, your weight gets shifted forward to the ball of the foot," she said. "It misaligns the whole skeleton and that’s in a nutshell why it’s really bad for you." Any stress placed on the ball of the foot can lead to painful foot conditions, like calluses, hammertoes, and fractures (per Women’s Health).
So how long is too long when wearing high heels on any given day? Well, according to Women’s Health, this depends on the activity and heel height. For instance, a low heel — 1.5 inches or shorter — is better for more active activities, like shopping, according to podiatrist L. Kelsey Armstrong, DPM, who also told the magazine that women should probably limit low heel time to a max of four hours. If you plan on wearing heels 3.5 inches or taller, limit your standing time to an hour, he added.
Exercising poor posture when wearing high heels makes your body work harder to stay balanced
Another mistake everyone makes when wearing high heels is ignoring good posture. Let’s be honest: It’s difficult not to. According to the Spine Health Institute, the taller the heel, the more your chest and lower back are pushed forward, which makes your body work harder to stay balanced. This gives you horrible posture, especially compared to when wearing flats, which keep your spine pretty straight.
That doesn’t mean you should ditch your high heels altogether, though. There is a way to wear your favorite shoes without sacrificing good posture. How? SFGate suggests imagining that there is an invisible string pulling your head up as you walk — that way, your head is in line with your spine and your chin is parallel to the floor. It also helps if you suck in your belly button, which, in turn, tightens your abs and takes the pressure off the balls of your feet.
Wearing high heels that are too large is not a good idea for this reason
Wearing high heels too big for your feet can "alter your gait and the natural biomechanics of the foot," according to a blog on Gotham’s website. How? Let’s say, for instance, you’re walking with heels a size too large, and your feet keep sliding out with every step you take. As a result, you may tighten your toes to hold the shoes to your feet. That repetitive motion can cause the formation of bunions and hammertoes as well as painful blisters and calluses because anytime your foot slides up and down, friction occurs — just like when you wear heels a size too small.
According to Today, it’s important that your heels fit just right. One way to guarantee that your heels fit correctly is by wearing heels that are the size of your bigger foot.
Wearing high heels that are too small is just as big a problem
Wearing high heels that are a size too small is just as bad as wearing a pair that is too large. Podiatrist Emma Supple told the Daily Mail that too-tight heels may cause blisters and deformities, like hammertoe. Supple suggests saying no to shoes that don’t feel right around your feet. "You will not break in the shoes — they will break you. This is why you should never buy them online, as you’ve got to try them on," she added. The right heels should allow you room to wiggle your toes rather than leave them feeling squashed.
According to Self, just because you bought heels that fit a little too snug doesn’t mean you have to throw them out completely. If you’re trying to squeeze into a size 7 and you’re an 8, that’s a lost cause since you can’t make a shoe a size bigger. There is a way to stretch shoes width-wise, however. One way to do that is by using a shoe stretcher.
Long story short, shoes shouldn’t be extremely tight or loose. Podiatric surgeon Suzanne Levine, MD, told Self that you should always have one centimeter of space between the shoe and your longest toe.
Avoiding inserts when wearing high heels is another blunder
If your high heels make your feet hurt, you shouldn’t just accept the old saying: "Beauty is pain." That would be a mistake, according to podiatrist Howard Osterman, DPM, who recommended wearing orthotic insoles in a Health article. "The benefit of off-the-shelf insoles is that they provide the ability to take a shoe that doesn’t fit quite right and make it more custom," he said.
Who What Wear published an article recommending several gel insoles specifically made for high heels, like Dr. Scholl’s soft cushioning insoles. According to Dr. Scholl’s website, the product features cushion flex technology that provides the wearer "arch support" and helps "relieve and prevent pain from high heels so you can wear your favorite heels longer."
Insoles also come recommended by busy career women, who told Good Morning America in an article that wearing insoles provides them a comfortable way to wear high heels without ditching them altogether.
The higher the heel you wear, the higher the health risks it presents
A high heel is typically considered anything 3.5 inches or taller, according to Women’s Health. But the higher the heel, the higher the risks. When you wear high heels, more pressure is placed on the sole of your foot as a result, the Orthopaedic Foot & Ankle Foundation reported. That can create painful foot conditions, like metatarsalgia or a stress fracture, also known as "a small crack in a bone," per the foundation’s website.
Though we love wearing our high heels and want to feel confident and look tall, wearing heels does come at a price. Lucky for us, there are ways to still wear those skyscraper-high heels without making the mistake of hurting our feet, according to Verywell Health. Instead of going for that thin stiletto heel, choose a shoe with a chunky heel — regardless of the height of the actual heel itself — that will help create more stability for your feet and ankles. Also, choose a shoe that has a platform in the sole, which could also help avoid any issues with pain in that area of the foot.
Wearing pointed-toe high heels is another bad idea for your feet
Not all high heels come with pointy toes, but beware of those that do — at least according to WebMD. It’s unnatural to have your toes squished in together inside of a pointy shoe, and that pressure can cause nerve pain, blisters, and bunions over time, in addition to bruising under the toenails.
A bunion, for instance, is a "painful lump at the base of the big toe" (via WebMD), and wearing pointed-toed shoes can actually cause this painfully unattractive condition. Although you may look sharp donning pointed high heels, WebMD suggests sticking to a safer option: a wider toe box, which allows your toes to wiggle around comfortably. The material you choose is just as important. Stick to a softer material that will allow more flexibility rather than opting for leather. Another WebMD article suggests that if you do wear pointed-toe shoes, wear them only for special occasions to avoid any future complications.
Not stretching your legs after wearing high heels is a big mistake
If you’re a high heel lover, you may not realize how important stretching is. That doesn’t mean taking yoga classes every once in a while, but actually implementing a stretch routine into your daily life to prevent injuries. According to Goop, there are a handful of exercises you should do to avoid the nasty side effects of wearing heels regularly. These include an intrinsic muscles stretch, which stretches your toes and helps prevent conditions, such as hammertoes and neuromas. There’s also the peroneals stretch that can help you maintain good ankle alignment, which is vital if you wear high heels often.
Podiatrist Jacqueline Sutera, DPM, told Well+Good that a little foot therapy can go a long way. "When you wear heels, the Achilles tendon—which is attached to the calf muscle and heel bone—tightens up over time. This tightening can be permanent and long-term, and the Achilles will actually shorten," she said. "Stretches can restore the length and improve tightness and soreness in the legs and feet." So if you simply can’t say no to your favorite high heels, don’t make the mistake of skipping out on a little bit of self-care.
Many of us are actually walking in high heels all wrong
Some of us may be walking in high heels all wrong. Yes, there’s an actual way of walking that makes wearing heels a much more fashionable experience in the long run. According to Cosmopolitan, after you find the right heel for you, you need to really learn how to walk in them. Maybe you’ve worn heels all your life and think you’re a pro high-heel walker by this point, but there is a proper way to walk that could help you strut down the sidewalk like a runway model.
First off, you’ll want to be intentional with every step you take until eventually it becomes as natural as breathing. That starts with walking in a heel-toe fashion, just like you would with any other shoe, but especially in high heels, Cosmo reports. This means stepping first with your heel on the ground, then with your toes, which will make you look more graceful. This manner of walking is also great for balance. Another pointer from Cosmo: Walk in a straight line, and place one foot in front of the other.
Not breaking in your high heels is another big no-no
Another mistake everyone makes when wearing high heels is not breaking new pairs in before taking them for a spin around town. According to podiatric surgeon Rebecca Pruthi, DPM, you should wear them at home first. In an interview with Bustle, Pruthi suggested wearing "socks at home while wearing shoes for a few hours" or using "shoe stretchers."
An article from the Independent went even further as to offer a step-by-step guide on how to break in a new pair of heels properly. The first step includes slipping into thick socks. The second step involves blasting your new shoes with a hair dryer for about a minute until they’re nice and warm. It may sound weird, but, according to the article, it helps your feet mold into the shoe that’s pretty stiff when you first purchase it. The third step is where you’ll slip your sock-wearing feet into your warm shoes and walk around the house until the shoes cool down. It’s ideal if you repeat the process one or two times, according to Independent. The final step, of course, is taking those high heels for a spin.
Wearing high heels that don’t shape your feet fail to protect your feet
Your best bet when wearing high heels is to wear those that offer support. As Verywell Health noted, many high heels don’t provide enough support — they often feature a small ankle strap and tiny material over the toes that don’t protect you from painful injuries, like ankle sprains.
To step up your high heel game, choose a shoe that fits the shape of your feet and has enough material to support them. This can look like a high-heeled boot or a heel with several sturdy straps across the foot and ankle. This especially rings true if you have wide feet. According to Everyday Health, most high heels aren’t made for wide feet, which can often cause more problems. In that case, try sticking to a lower heel — no more than 2.5 inches — and opt for a wide or rounded design around the toes.
Avoiding this simple hack when wearing high heels is a mistake
If you’re not using this hack when wearing high heels, you might be making a mistake, according to a Today article. In the personal op-ed, the writer experimented with a hack that’s supposed to make wearing heels less painful by taping your third and fourth toes together before slipping into your heels. What did an expert have to say about this? Podiatrist Megan Leahy weighed in on the hack and was quoted as saying that although "taping toes together is not a treatment we employ in podiatry," she doesn’t completely discount the hack. She noted that adding the tape may change how women walk and shift their weight, which could help alleviate some of the pressure high heels cause.
The writer of the piece mused that she was able to get through eight hours of wearing high heels without suffering "excruciating pain," and although tape didn’t solve every issue, including blisters, at the end of her experiment, she considered tape to be her new "secret weapon."
Forgetting to remove the label on high heels is a fashion faux pas
You’re feeling confident in your new high heels until someone points out the sticker price tag you left on the bottom of your shoe. Per The Sun, that’s an actual problem that is a total fashion faux pas. Don’t make the mistake of leaving the tag behind. Before breaking in your new heels, remove those unattractive tags. If the sticker is stubborn, use a blow dryer, according to this YouTube video from Home Made Simple. In the video, the presenter shows how easy it is to remove a sticker price tag at the bottom of any product using the heat from a blow dryer.
This fashion mistake happens to the best of us, including actress Gwyneth Paltrow, per the HuffPost. During a gym studio opening, Paltrow was photographed wearing a gorgeous Victoria Beckham minidress and colorful Michael Kors heels. The only hitch was that she forgot to remove the clearly visible tags from the bottom of her heels.
Not wearing comfortable shoes on your commute to work will take its toll on your feet
If you walk to work, you may want to ditch your heels until you get to the office. According to Self, many of us who wear high heels make the mistake of wearing our heels every single moment of the day, even on our commute. But you don’t have to, and your feet will even thank you. Though commuter shoes, which often feature a thick sole and arch support, may not look as glamorous with your fashionista ensemble, they get you from point A to point B safely and pain-free.
"If women in their 20s started doing this now, they would have fewer problems when they get older," podiatric surgeon Jackie Sutera, DPM, told Self. Once you get to where you need to be, you can pull out those show-stopping high heels and wear them to your heart’s content, of course keeping in mind all the things you learned in this article. Life is all about balance, even when it comes to your high heels.