Those Pretty, Painful High Heels

Those Pretty, Painful High Heels

Given the number of painful conditions brought on by high heels, it seems unfortunate to report that studies have found they do make women more attractive. An article in Psychology Today outlined the phenomenon, citing an experiment in which lights were used to highlight a woman’s features as she walked. Sure enough, women in high heels were consistently rated as more attractive than women in flats.

Knowing this, the fashion industry seems determined to put women on very tiny heels that send her heel toward the sky. Recently, the shoe industry has begun calling high heels “skyscraper heels.” But your local physician has another response, given the number of women who show up at the office, take off their high heels and complain of back pain, ankle pain, foot pain. They complain of bunions, varicose veins, and osteoarthritis in the knees. What could be the problem? They scratch their heads, then they write on a prescription pad, “You should wear sandals.”
High heels certainly put more pressure on the ball of your feet, which can result in a painful condition called metatarsalgia

High heels change a woman’s posture, forcing her into an unnatural balance, which affects the lower spine and the hips. High heels can cause tendonitis, metatarsalgia, plantar fasciitis, blisters, corns, bunions, and hammertoe. They can cause conditions that are hard to pronounce, like spondylolisthesis – and patients certainly try hard to avoid medical conditions that are hard to spell or pronounce. So, let’s look at a few of these medical conditions one by one and see if wearing high heels is worth all the trouble.

Patellar Tendonitis

Tendonitis can be an extremely painful condition in various parts of the body, including the wrists and elbows. Patellar tendonitis refers to swollen tendons under the kneecap. Treatments for patellar tendonitis range from over-the-counter pain medication (ibuprofen, acetaminophen), anti-inflammatory medicine, and topical gels. Hot or cold compresses can also reduce swelling and pain. Rest and change of footwear will certainly help. Corticosteroid injections can help in some cases. Physical therapy and surgery are also options, depending on the severity of the problem.


High heels certainly put more pressure on the ball of your feet, which can result in a painful condition called metatarsalgia. This refers to the metatarsal, which is the bones in the front of your feet behind your toes.

Treatment for metatarsalgia is similar to treatment for tendonitis: Ice helps reduce swelling and pain. Over-the-counter medications help, as do anti-inflammatory drugs. However, if the cause of metatarsalgia is too much time walking in high heels, then the antidote is painfully obvious: Switch to flats or at least lower heels.

Three-inch heels, according to the Spinal Health Institute, put 75 percent of your downward pressure on the ball of your feet. Cut off one inch of those heels and the percentage of pressure on the front of your foot drops to 57 percent. With one-inch heels, it drops to 22 percent.

Plantar fasciitis


Perhaps the most critical tendon giving you support in your feet is called the Achilles tendon, named for the Greek warrior whose downfall came when he was shot in the heel with an arrow during battle. Medically, the Achilles tendon stretches from the back of your heel to your calf. It acts like a rubber band when you walk, stretching and shortening. This tendon, however, is attached to your plantar fascia, which is the tendon that goes from your heel, under your foot, to the metatarsal bones.


When you walk in high heels, you shorten the Achilles tendon, which puts more stress on the plantar fascia. It’s a dominoes effect. Due to walking with a shortened Achilles tendon, you increase the risk of heel pain, even if the weight is shifted to the front of your feet.


The treatment for conditions that are caused by wearing high heels always includes switching to lower heels or flats. None of these conditions are usually brought on by a one-time accident. They are more commonly wear and tear injuries brought on by repeated motions, like walking in high heels.

Finding Help

Are you experiencing foot or ankle pain?  If so, call the Sorrento Valley Pain Relief Center in San Diego at 858-215-5349 for more information or to book an appointment.

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