Podiatrists agree patients who insist on wearing high heels are their worst nightmare. Despite the warnings, women continue to wear them without understanding the risks involved.

The feet aren’t the only body part affected by sky-high shoes. The effects of wearing high heels show up in posture, spinal health, and even knee, nerve and hip health.

Poor Posture

Picture this: walking in high heels is the equivalent of walking on a ramp. When you wear high heels, the angle of your body changes to adjust for the incline of your feet. As you can imagine, the downward force places extra pressure on the balls of your feet.

Additional pressure is placed on the knees, too. You may have noticed your quadriceps and calves tighten to keep yourself steady. To stand upright, the head of your pelvis tilts forward in what is known as anterior pelvic tilt.

Wearing heels leaves your spine unaligned; over time, you overuse your back muscles, cause back pain, and welcome spinal conditions such as spondylolisthesis, a condition where vertebral discs slip and displace those below them.

Nerve Damage

The inside of your vertebra contain several passageways where the spinal nerves are nestled. Certain conditions can lead to a narrowing of these passageways, or foraminal stenosis.

The narrowing of these passageways can constrict nerve bundles situated within these openings.

Wearing high heels can indirectly lead to foraminal stenosis. Conditions such as herniated discs, bulging discs, and spondylolisthesis—which poor footwear can develop—can progress to foraminal narrowing.

Normally, foraminal narrowing occurs in vertebrae of the lower back. Depending on the severity of the narrowing, you may experience numbness, tingling, shooting pains, and cramping down one or both legs.

The condition doesn’t develop immediately; it make take several years of consistently wearing poor footwear to affect the spinal foramina.

Foot Issues

Apart from a series of cosmetic issues, wearing high heels can result in permanent damage to your feet.

One of the complications associated with high heels and feet is Morton’s neuroma, where tissue thickens around a nerve on the ball of your foot. Patients suffering from the condition liken the sensation to a pebble stuck between the third and fourth toes.

Similar to foraminal stenosis, Morton’s neuroma ultimately affects the nerves. The thickening of tissue compresses the nerve pathways leading to the toes which often leads to a burning sensation.

Left untreated, Morton’s neuroma is unlikely to cause permanent nerve damage; however, everyday tasks such as walking or pressing with the foot can become painful.

Solutions

Before you chuck your high heels, remember moderation is key: decreasing the frequency of wearing high heels can help counteract prolonged, harmful side effects. Wearing heels that are two inches or shorter can also decrease the pressure on your feet. You can also stretch your calves and back during breaks to release tension.

According to this infographic, only 39% of women wore heels daily in 2003, compared to a staggering 60% in 1986. With all the shifts in culture, women have shed historic ideas of femininity tied to footwear, adopting options that are healthier for their feet.

Written by: Alexandra Petruchenya