High Heel Hygiene

Ladies (and maybe men), if you’ve been influenced by Lady Gaga’s taste in shoes or can’t be seen without your 3-inch stilettos, you might be predisposing yourself to some high-heel related problems—and I don’t mean cat calls.

Posted on | Mike Roizen, MD | Comments ()

Ladies (and maybe men), if you’ve been influenced by Lady Gaga’s taste in shoes or can’t be seen without your 3-inch stilettos, you might be predisposing yourself to some high-heel related problems—and I don’t mean cat calls.


According to a new study, wearing 2-inch heels (or higher) 5 or more days a week shrinks a woman's calf muscle fibers by 13% and thickens her Achilles tendon (that attaches the heel to the calf muscle) by 22%. When this happens, you might notice that those trendy flats or sneakers are uncomfortable to walk in. Why? Because when your calf shortens and Achilles tendon thickens, they change the resting position of your ankle so it points down more than normal. Walking on a flat foot will feel like deep-stretching a muscle you haven’t warmed up or stretched in a while—yeah…painful.


If not being able to wear this fall’s latest flat collection isn’t motivating enough (something I find deeply concerning), high heels can contribute to a range of ailments, including ankle sprains, bunions, hammertoes, knee problems, and low back pain. Lady Gaga’s super-high heels—like the 12-inch Alexander McQueens (the platforms that look like a claw) in her "Bad Romance" music video—can even cause ankle ligaments to snap or bones in your feet to break.


Now don’t worry, I’m not going to tell you to part with the only things you love more than your husband (Nancy, you're excluded). These physical changes and discomfort primarily occur in women that almost exclusively wear high-heeled shoes. In the study, the women who experienced pain wore heels for an average of 60 hours a week. So what’s the best way to prevent that from happening? Switch it up! Try to shoot for heels lower than 2 inches tall and alternate between your kitten heels, flats, and sneakers throughout the week.


But wait, there’s more to heel hygiene than just that. Keep your feet happy with these 4 exercises:

  1. Resistance band. While sitting, loop the band around the front of your foot. Pull it towards you and gently push against it with your toes. Do this daily. You can set time aside for it, or just whip out your band, belt, towel, whatever, when you have free time.
  2. The Step. Stand with just your toes on a step facing up. Slowly lower your heels to feel your calf muscles stretching. Create this mental association (stairs = stretch time) and impress your co-workers with your dedication to personal health.
  3. Circle the toes. As easy as that, circle…the…toes, and alternate flexing and pointing too.
  4. Pick things up with your toes. This will strengthen your feet.

Young Dr Mike, aka “The Enforcer”

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Blog written by Mike Roizen, MD
Dr. Roizen is a past chair of a Food and Drug Administration advisory committee and a former editor for 6 medical journals with...