There are hundreds of thousands of nerves in your foot and 28 bones (that’s 13.5 percent of all the bones in your body). They hold you up from morning 'til night and take the repetitive stress of 10,000 steps each day. And how do we repay them? By shoving them into uncomfortable shoes that exacerbate the stress they’re already under. More than 90 percent of women who wear heels suffer from pain, soreness and fatigue*. No kidding.
“High heels don’t promote proper foot posture,” says Phillip Vasyli, a podiatrist and founder of Vionic, a brand of biomechanically correct kicks with built-in orthotics. When you wear heels, your arch becomes higher, and yet the profile of the shoe itself is a flat ramp that doesn’t follow your foot’s curvature. That’s why Vasyli is designing the first-ever foot-friendly line of fashion heels, due to hit stores in 2014.
He clued us into some surprising facts every stiletto-loving woman should know:
Small heels are good for you. Most people over-pronate, which means their arches and ankles collapse inward on each step. Going up on your toes—like when you slip into a pair of heels—turns your ankles slightly outward, counteracting the collapse. A stable 1- to 2-inch heel is ideal for this. A low heel also takes the strain off tight calf muscles, relieving pain and decreasing your odds of developing plantar faciitis.
You don’t need more shock absorption. Pronation is your foot’s natural way to absorb the shock of hitting the ground. The foot essentially unlocks itself, softening to absorb the blow, then rolls outward, becoming rigid again to support your weight as you lift your other foot and begin to propel forward. People who over-pronate remain in the unstable, unlocked position even when all of their weight is on one foot. For them, shock-absorbing cushioning just adds to the instability.
Every inch of heel height can put another 25 percent of your body weight onto your forefoot. That means, if you’re rocking 4-inch heels, you’re effectively walking on your tippy toes all day. Even a small ankle strap dramatically reduces the pressure on your piggies.
That burning sensation under the ball of your foot is actual heat. When your feet slip forward in high heels, you naturally claw your toes to try to stay in place. This pushes the head of your second metatarsal (the base of your second toe) into the sole of your shoe. The pressure and friction create a literal increase in temperature, according to studies. And a callous comes next.
Running in heels may lead to knee arthritis. Attention hustlers, movers and/or shakers: An October 2013 study in the International Journal of Biomedical Engineering and Technology found that jogging—say, running to catch a train—in 2 ¾-inch heels increases lateral movement of the knees (toward and away from each other), which could contribute to arthritis.
Can’t part with your high heels? Then take a look at our gallery of heels that won’t kill your feet—or your outfit.
“I don't know who invented high heels, but all women owe him a lot.” —Marilyn Monroe
We get what Marilyn was saying—slip on a sky-high pair of stilettos and you instantly walk taller, feel slimmer and undergo an overall attitude change. Of course, what the icon left out was the part about them making your arches ache, your toes pinch, and don’t even get us started on the unnatural things heels can do to your lower back. Sure, there’s plenty of truth behind the adage that beauty is pain, but guess what? It doesn’t have to be that way.
This may be hard to believe, but there actually are comfortable high heels out there that won’t cause you to whimper as you walk. Here are five fashionable finds that will give you a vertical boost without making you wish you’d opted for flip-flops. So our apologies, Marilyn: Gentlemen may prefer blondes, but ladies prefer shoes that don’t literally cramp their style.
Cushion the Blow
Look, the daily grind has us tired enough. We really don’t need the added exhaustion of trying to get through the day in shoes that make our feet work as hard as our minds. In fact, a June 2013 survey by the College of Podiatry in the U.K. found that most women start feeling pain from their high heels in just six minutes to an hour, with 20 percent noticing the pain in a mere 10 minutes. Your key to heels that won’t make you burst into tears before you even make it from the car to your desk? Soft leather, cushioned insoles and footbeds, and heels that are sturdy but not at all clunky. As one reviewer noted of this style: “I think I could actually run a marathon in these shoes and look totally hot doing it!”
Find a Middle Ground
A sky-high heel can look like a work of art—but wearable? Not so much. The pain of balancing on the ball of your foot all day can make even the most committed fashionista long for a pair of (gasp!) Crocs. Instead, try a pump that’s made to last through work, happy hour and even a few spins on the dance floor. Söfft shoes are known for their comfortable footbeds thanks to extra foam padding to support the ball, heel and arch of the foot, as well as shock absorption. Fashionable and fair to your feet? Fierce.
Create Your Platform
When you’re not willing to give up the height of a heel, but you literally can’t stand the thought of cramming your tootsies into another stiletto, the platform is your foot’s BFF. And shoe lovers, the trend is everywhere. From flatforms (sandals that give you a raised sole, but not a raised arch) to wedges to stacked heels to stilettos, there are practically endless styles out there that will give you height, but ease the strain on your feet. New York brand Miz Mooz launched with the idea that style need not suffer when it comes to creating a comfortable shoe. We agree.
Let the Shoe Do Some of the Work
Sometimes, just keeping your high heels on is half the battle. That’s why we’ve totally fallen for T-straps and Mary Jane’s. Not only do the styles look cool, they also take some of the load off since they keep your shoes in place as you lift your feet to walk. Look for soft leathers and cushioned insoles for added comfort; choose wedges, platforms or clogs that pair with everything from dresses to jeans; and most importantly, work for—not against—you. This popular, lightweight T-strap clog from No. 6 comes in black, blue, white, yellow and red. One for each day of the work week!
When All Else Fails, Turn to Science
If they can put a man on the moon, teach gorillas sign language and get a movie called “Sharknado” on the air, why, you might ask, can’t they come up with a comfy high heel that looks great? Fans of Cole Haan would argue that they have. The company uses Nike’s Air technology for more comfort in the heel and forefoot. No, these classic black pumps won’t trick you into thinking you’re wearing your favorite sneakers, but they’ll help sideline high heel pain and flatter any outfit.
*Ye, T., Liang, L.L., Liu C., Gu, L. and Laing, J. (2007) ‘Investigation of women wearing high heels’, Health Vocational Education, Vol. 25, No. 11, pp.126–127.
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