Got pain? Here’s what high heel designers won’t tell you

April 24, 2018

Ask most women why they put up with uncomfortable, even painful high heels, and they will respond, “Because I look great when I wear them.”

Well, maybe until you’re hobbled.

Egyptian murals dating back to 3500 B.C. depict nobility wearing heels to distinguish themselves from the lower class. The poor went barefoot. Marie Antoinette’s crimes against humanity during the French Revolution (1789 –1799) were all about her excesses. She reportedly wore 2” heels to her execution by guillotine.

Flat shoes dominated wardrobes until the mid-1800s when heels inched up once more—literally ½ inch—and by 1860s some women were teetering on 2 ½ inch heels, most often heels made of brass. Shoe designer Roger Vivier (1903 – 1998) of the House of Dior is credited with creating the modern stiletto heel.

Heels shift one’s weight to the ball of the foot. The knees and hips then push forward and the spine must hyperextend backwards to counterbalance. The higher the heel, the more weight and pressure are shifted forward. None of it sounds comfortable.

And it can result in hammer toes (the toe becomes bent downward permanently), bunions and ingrown toenails. That’s not attractive (particularly when sandal season invites your toes to be free.) reports that Victoria Beckham had surgery on her foot in February. Beckham tweeted out selfies of her surgical boot as fans speculated that she could be recovering from the surgery she was advised to have as long ago as 2010—a bunionectomy. A bunion, is a bony bump at the base of the big toe joint made worse by wearing high heels that throw the body weight forward. Google Victoria Beckham and the former Spice Girl turned fashion mogul married to superstar David Beckham is rarely spotted wearing any other footwear but heels.

The downside of wearing heels too long for too many years is Morton’s neuroma. More than 200,000 cases are reported in the US each year. Of that 200,000, females are twice as likely to be affected than men which makes sense since Morton’s can be caused by pressure, injury, or wearing high heels. Those who suffer from Morton’s report that it feels like a pebble in one’s shoe or the seam of a sock irritatingly folded over. Numbness in the ball of the foot or toes results.

Factors known to contribute to Morton's neuroma:

  • High heels. Wearing high-heels can place extra pressure on your toes and the ball of your foot.
  • Athletic activities. High-impact activities that cause repetitive trauma such as jogging or running. Foot gear that places inordinate pressure on one’s toes. Think ski boots and climbing shoes.
  • Foot deformities. If you have bunions and hammertoes, high arches or flatfeet you are at higher risk of developing Morton's neuroma.

Foot pain is not normal. Dr. Cynthia Oberholtzer-Classen, DPM, urges women to bring their favorite shoes in to their foot exam. Custom orthotics specifically designed for women's high or low heels can alleviate most foot pain.