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How to Wear Heels without Ruining Your Feet

The truth according to podiatrists.

How to Wear Heels without Ruining Your Feet

Working in fashion and wearing heels is essentially synonymous, for better or worse. Take a peek inside Coveteur HQ on any given day, and at least half of us are clicking around in our favorite pair. It’s noisy, sure, but we look damn good regardless. Granted, our line of work means we’re predisposed to invest in (TOO MANY—is there such a thing?) shoes, but as any platform, stiletto, or strappy sandal devotee can tell you, it takes a toll on your feet. Aside from stocking up on Band-Aids and hoping for the best, we wanted to know if our sartorial choices are actually doing real, long-term damage. Seriously, have you ever seen a bunion up close? It’s not pretty.

To get the lowdown on whether or not our favorite shoes are worth the pain, we spoke with Dr. Jackie Sutera, an NYC-based podiatrist. She guided us through what to expect for the future of our feet and whether or not we’ll be forced to eventually choose comfort over style. 

Up first, the burning question we had to know, once and for all—can heels really cause that much damage?

Sadly, yes. “Long-term use of high heels can damage your feet, hips, knees, and back,” says Dr. Sutera. “This occurs because when you are in a high heel, your weight shifts forward to the ball of your foot. This in turn makes your knees and your hips move forward, and your back must hyperextend backwards.” For dancers, runners, and anyone else who regularly exerts extra force on their feet, shoe choice is especially important. “They can make bunions and hammertoes worse, and cause pinched nerves, damaged toenails, stress fractures, and inflammation such as fasciitis and tendinitis,” meaning sharp pain in the heel and inflammation in the tissue connecting the muscle to bone.

OK, strike one. But remember, not all heels are created equal. Kitten and low block styles are having a definite moment right now, but Dr. Sutera still advises caution.

“The American Podiatric Medical Association recommends heel heights of two inches or lower, and only for short periods of standing and walking.” What about the popular mules we’re seeing everywhere? “Shoes that are pointed or narrow can be harmful because they cram your toe box (the section of your shoe that covers and protects your toes). This can cause ingrown toenails, pinched nerves, and make bunions and hammertoes worse.” Did anyone else hear a recommendation to start shopping immediately? We’re just trying to keep our toes happy and free!

It still seems like the Carrie Bradshawlevel shoe hoarders of the world can stroll all over the city with nary a blister. Are they just inherently blessed with superior feet?

“There is a genetic component for problems such as bunions. If these run in your family, it’s very important to have an evaluation by your podiatrist early.” Setting aside this majorly unfair advantage, podiatrists do recommend a few simple steps to combat the negative effects. “There are many over-the-counter products that can be useful depending on your needs, including pads, cushions, and inserts. Calf stretches and toe grip exercises are very easy to perform daily. Also, ice and massage your feet and legs when you get home.” What a fantastic reason to coerce encourage your partner to give you daily massages. It’s physician-endorsed, after all.

Of course, the most obvious solution is to give up high heels altogether. Once you’ve finished laughing at that suggestion, take comfort in the fact that Dr. Sutera is still a fan of this old standby. “Wearing commuter shoes [is] a great habit for long-term foot health.” We won’t tell if you won’t.

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