Are heels bad for your health?

Toppling from my heels towards the floor, in that exact moment I knew I had seriously damaged my ankle. I had no idea what I’d done, but the excruciating twinge that shot from my ankle up my leg told me that something was seriously amiss.

I’ve been wearing heels for 15 years and have never had an accident wearing them. Blisters and sore feet yes, but an injury- never.

“I’ve lost toenails to high heels on multiple occasions. But you know what’s worse for my health? The dark sinking feeling of woe I would suffer if I had to stop wearing them,” says Alyx Gorman, fashion editor at TheVine.com.au.

How true this anecdote must ring to women out there for whom wearing heels is a daily part of life. The pull towards a higher stature, leaner legs and the enviable beauty one feels in high heels is potent to say the least. No doubt the memory of clambering into your mothers or sisters heels as a child, fascinated with how you looked is a common experience.

“I could run a half marathon in 7 inch platforms as long as they were wedges, or had a thick heel, but put me in a platform stiletto and you’ll see a great impersonation of a new born baby deer. The point of heels is that they make you look better, not worse,” Alyx says.

The heels I was wearing when I sprained my ankle measured 15cm high complete with a platform sole. They added roughly that to my slight (read: short) frame and I felt like a million dollars gaining interest in them. I took to stacked platform heels with gusto in which I danced, walked, shopped and of course, posed.

Then I fell, and what a sprain it was. I ended up in emergency with an ankle that resembled the foot of a baby elephant. Severe bruising had set in and unable to walk, I was prescribed crutches and painkillers. An x-ray confirmed it wasn’t fractured, but the doctor requested a further CT scan because the sprain was so severe.

“In my opinion, high heels are a cruel joke imposed by someone’s (probably male) idea of beauty that somehow got propelled into modern culture-think Chinese foot binding,” chiropractor Dr. Joe Ierano tells me.

“Very recent stories report an increase in broken ankles and emergency rooms can attest to this. It is increasing in incidence and expense to society. Add to this the risk of foot deformities and spinal pain syndromes and you could quickly argue that high heels drive the wheels of industry for shoe makers and health care professionals alike,” he says.

I wondered however, whether despite the medical evidence available, our attitudes towards an elevated profile would really change?

“Men like heels too. Just the other day I got a press release for Stealth high heels for men, that make you taller while looking like regular shoes. The ability to change your height, and the way you walk and hold yourself just by slipping something on your feet feels a bit magic,’ Alyx says.

That sense of magic is so compelling and could be what drives us towards wearing something on our bodies every day that could break our bones or deform our bodies. Beautiful colours, buttery leather and a heel for every occasion give women a sense of freedom about their appearance and clearly define gender difference. Heels can say many things, but what they spell out more than anything is that you are feminine, and you have choice.

So will we continue to choose something that is potentially bad for our health?

“Just like a sexual fetish that you can’t say no to, that drives the wheels of some illicit industry, or a banned product that drives it underground – some women must have them,” Dr.Ierano says.

  • Loata Bavadra

    For the LOve of heel’s…Yes heels are bad for your health but when has that ever stopped us…..life without heel’s for women, I can’t imagine….
    The list of the wise heels
    1. find a pair of heels that are a suitable style & length for your body weight
    2.Never wear your favourite pair of heel’s when going out on an all nighter because you can just kiss your feet and your heel’s good buy
    3. Save your very favourite heel’s for dinner or short little date’s this will keep them in good nic and it won’t cause the breaking down of the feet
    4.Never leave them around your gay guy friend’s because they will steal them and take them to wear for themselves
    5.Beauty can often mean pain so know how and when to wear your heel’s and you will be fine

  • I have such a love hate relationship with heels! The torture and the glamour vs comfort.

  • My mother is 77 yrs old and still wears high heels. She has a small frame, is thin and short in stature. She once told me the day she cannot wear her high heel is the day she wants to die. And then hasten to add she wants to be buried in high heels! I hope I can be like her and wear them until the day I die.

  • My foot was x-rayed this morning to determine whether I have fractured my toe or have a case of arthritis. I have been forced into wearing flats as wearing heels has become too painful. I absolutely LOVE wearing my heels and have a mighty collection but for the sake of my health I am going to try and wear more flats. I’ve just posted on this subject too, loved this post, a great read.

    Sleekit x

  • The Queen Vee

    I agree with Michelle. Heels are beautiful and they do extend the leg but the health problems and pain to wear them just aren’t worth it.

  • Personally I’m more comfortable in flats. But if I’m going out for a night on the town or an event I’ll wear heels. Nothing more than 3″ though. No stiletto’s. Either a sturdy heel or wedges or platform. Anything past 3″ is begging me to trip and fall!

  • I quit heels after I ended up with a permanent sharp pain running up the back of my leg – turned out it was sciatica and I had one hip significantly higher than the other. I’ve now been seeing a Chiropractor for the last 5 years and rarely wear heels (on his advise). The only time I wear them is to go out and if I wear them during the day it’s only ever for a short period. Although in saying that, Chiros would have us wearing horrible Clarks school shoes if they could!

  • I love the look of heels and personally own about 3 pairs that I hardly ever use – and they’re not even what my heel-wearing friends would call ‘that high’. It’s not that I don’t want to, but I’ve never been able to wear heels without pain and discomfort. I’m not overweight, and I’m not a wuss for pain either, but literally 5 minutes walking in a pair of heels and my feet are screaming bloody agony. And for up to 2 days after wearing them, I can still feel the ache in my feet. I don’t know how some women wear them everyday but I’ve given up on high heels.

  • If only heels were not so pretty!! While I predominately wear flats (I walk everywhere) I still find I am more likely to spend money on heels. There is something about them that sends a flutter through me when I see, let alone wear, a gorgeous shoe.

    We could live in a heel free world but as long as we are sensible why would we want to???

  • High heels are definitely bad for you – just ask my Yoga teacher and my hamstrings after a day stomping around in them. Clearly logic and fashion are like night and day – never the two things will meet, and so – I keep on wearing them – despite and ugly ankle injury two. My concession is to alternate – day on, day off – just like an alchohol free day. May be kidding myself, but at least I can keep away from all those scary physio and orthopaedic type people!

  • Dr Joe is sincerely sorry about the Chinese v Japanese mix up! What I intended to report was that the Japanese had a hand in banning it in Taiwan in 1915 (according to a Wikipedia article).

  • Carla

    I’m so offended by the implication that women look under-dressed or less beautiful in flats. There are many beautiful flats out there and so many of us will choose our long-term health over having somebody else think we look poised and graceful because WE feel beautiful and confident in being healthy.

    There are a lot of bad things we do to our bodies in the name of beauty, and whilst I am no saint, I do try to avoid most. When I started my first ‘real’ job working in the city, I dressed to fit in to that fashionable corporate lifestyle and wore pencil skirts and heels every day. After having made the transition back to flats, I can’t believe I ever wanted to wear heels – it does feel archaic to wear a shoe that is uncomfortable to look better.

    I’ll never judge anybody in heels (except if they happen to teeter along in my way when I’m in a hurry!), but I utterly refuse to be told that I am more beautiful in an unnatural state than I am without.

    I’m probably getting on my soapbox a bit here, but as a recovering bulimic I can say there is nothing more destructive to a woman’s self-confidence than the idea that they need something more than they are to be beautiful.

    Being healthy and happy should be all we need to feel good about ourselves – beautiful clothes, handbags, shoes and other accessories should be just for fun.

    Which brings me to my conclusion (tl;dr) and that is that I admire Lady M’s attitude to fashion. Sure, I come here to look at clothes and get inspiration for colour combinations, etc etc but I also get the distinct sense that Lady is a woman with a strong sense of self, and that I love, perhaps more so than the pretty things she posts.

  • Genevieve

    LM I have followed your ankle saga with interest and it is great that you have opened up discussion about wearing high heel shoes. I’m a grandmother and admit to having loved and constantly worn high heels in my 20’s & 30’s. In my 40’s they became just too uncomfortable and now I only ever put on a heel on a special occasion. Why? I have bunions and my feet hurt! I’ve spent heaps seeing chiropractors and podiatrists. I still believe there is a special place for heels but do suggest they shouldn’t be part of everyday footwear, especially if you spend lots of time on your feet. I also wish the shoe range catered better for the in between age group….not young but definitely not as ugly as a most of the ‘comfort’ shoes available that MY nana wore!

  • At 6 foot 2 I both hate and love heels, but eh, all part of being a woman!

  • My chiropractor cringes about my high heel habit, and yet he also approves of how great they look on women. I’ve had some less than graceful falls in heels and wedges that have taken off the skin on my knees and hands, and hurts my legs, and yet, even as I’m faling I’m thinking, ‘Oh god, not my shoes, please let my shoes be ok!’

    The reality is, women aren’t ever going to give up heels, but for our backs and feet’s sake we should limit our time in them. I have found now that travelling about in flats and then swapping them out for my beautiful heels at whatever event I’m out is a wise choice.

  • I love the look of heels but for me the pain caused isn’t worth it. I have developed a weakness in my lower back over the years due to years of netball & working in an office, so I had to give up heels about 3 years ago after slipping a disc fue to my heels. And honestly I don’t miss them(or the resultant pain & blisters) at all. I love fashion but I just refuse to let my health suffer just to be a few centimetres taller.

  • I love the way high heels look, but I don’t enjoy the crippling pain that they sometimes cause… Funny thing is that I have only started to notice the pain in the last year or two. I sit there sometimes and my feet feel literally crushed and broken. Sometimes I look down at my toes and regret ever setting foot in a point. Thank goodness though I don’t have bunions! Anyways, i recently set out to find nice mid-heel shoes and boots… Guess what?! Unless you are happy shopping in the more mature shoe section they don’t exist! 🙁

  • The Poodle

    i broke my ankle wearing heels…but am happily back in them…….i love them..and will never give them up

  • Oh you poor thing! I know that exact pain of spraining your ankle so badly you think it’s broken (except I did it in a dance class – no heels for me for 9 months after that!)
    I went one better the other day though, I slipped whilst wearing FLAT shoes and grazed my knee like I was 12 years old again (I am 30!). Fashion-induced injuries – what can you do!!

  • Many women will wear high heels even though they aware of the consequences of the risk they gotten into, still women have to wear them but with proper caution and awareness.

  • David

    The “Dr.” Joe Ierano you plug should do his research, foot binding was historically a Chinese custom.

  • I love heels so much and I just cant live without them..

    BTW, I’m in love with your blog and I wonder if we can follow each other..? what do you think ? even if no, I will be your follower <3

    chocarome.blogspot.com

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  • Whilst I think they’re terribly beautiful… I prefer not to wear them. I’m plus size and could totally relate to the center of gravity shift, the weight compounding on my toes and cramping.

    I believe a smile and a cute pair of flats are much more attractive than a pair of high heels and a grimace.

  • yoyos

    So many everyday things are terrible for the body, like sitting and even worse sitting with one leg over the other for example. I don’t think women will ever be able to give up heels completely but we should try to limit how much we wear them and try to feel sexy without the stylish elevation they offer.

  • SdV

    honestly I’m finding it more and more difficult to wear heels especially in melbourne with its less than straight pathways. i bought some beautiful wedge heels from tony bianco and more than happily strutted in them during LMFF only to walk on home carrying them in my hands. my knees hurt, my feet is in agony, and I hobble like a goblin =/
    now I get more wear out of my $15 flats.

  • I think I understand the allure of heels even though I am a guy.

    Being into fashion so much, I always and I mean ALWAYS persuade my fellow female friends to buy more heels.

    I think with heels, it gives women a sense of confidence and also better posture and grace in a magical sort of way.

    Like wearing a plain tee and jeans. If you pair it with flats or running shoes or canvas. You would always look under dress.

    Pair it with a nice stiletto, wedge or any kind of heels (preferably 3inch or more) you are good to go. You suddenly will look more dressed and styled.

    Just makes you more fabulous and pretty.

    That’s my two cents. And definitely as a fashion savvy person, I recommend heels to every female and some male (if they want to).

  • My good friend’s boyfriend is a physio and he absolutely cringes everytime his girlfriend puts heels on. He puts so many problems his female patients have down to the wearing of high heels. I still don’t think I could bring myself to stop wearing them though, at 158cm I need a little boost sometimes!x

  • It was an interesting read even though I wasn’t going to change my mind about wearing heels! Your photo looks amazing though. After you blogged about those shoes, I went straight to Myer and had a look but to my disappointment, couldn’t find any in my size:( Hope your ankle has fully recovered and you continue wearing those beautiful heels safely!! x

  • Lady Melbourne

    I didn’t have room for it in the article, but here are some of the problems Dr.Joe Ierano quoted to me in our interview:

    1. Tilts you forward and changes your center of gravity
    2. Arches your lower back which will potentially create tension and pressure
    3. Puts more weight on the fore foot
    4. Shortens calf muscles
    5. Crushes the foot
    6. Directs the weight of a woman, some quite hefty who still wear them, to a small area less than a centimeter squared on the ground.