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September 2015

High Heels: Fashion Footwear or Safety Hazard?

High-heeled shoes are a fashion staple in many women’s wardrobes. Quite a few women slide on a pair of high heels more than 3 times a week. But they may not be the safest footwear to step out in, according to a recent study.

High heels

Not always a good fit

In The Journal of Foot and Ankle Surgery, researchers looked at injuries related to high-heeled shoes. They used data from the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (NEISS). The NEISS captures information on injuries from consumer products. It collects from a sample of more than 100 hospitals nationwide.

From 2002 to 2012, the researchers saw a dramatic increase in injuries from high heels. Such mishaps jumped 82% over the 10-year period. It isn’t clear why. The finding may partly reflect a fashion trend.

Those most likely to be injured while wearing high heels were women in their 20s and 30s. Common injuries were sprains and strains to the ankle. Some women also reported hurt shoulders, arms, and hands—perhaps from bracing for a tumble. Nearly half of the accidents occurred at home, while a third happened in a public setting, such as a store or restaurant.

Far more than falls

Falls aren’t the only misstep you can make by wearing high heels. Past research has found that the footwear can actually alter how you walk. The shoes can weaken and shorten the muscles in your calves and ankles. These changes can lead to pain in your back, knees, and feet. One past study even found high heels may impair blood flow in your legs, possibly causing varicose veins.

If you wear high-heeled shoes for a long time, you may also end up with foot problems. One of the most common is a bunion. This bump on the side of your foot forms when the big toe is pushed toward your second toe. Tight-fitting shoes are often the culprit. Other foot maladies linked to high heels include corns, calluses, and heel pain.

You don’t have to completely forgo high heels. But remember that your feet carry all your weight. So follow these steps to take better care of them:

  • Buy lower-heeled shoes. Look for styles with heels that are wider and less than 2 inches high. They will give you more support and not affect your balance as much.

  • Check your shoe size. Shoes that are too small for your feet can cause many problems, including pain, nerve damage, and blisters. Your toes should have room to wiggle.

  • Switch up your style. Don’t wear heels all day and night. Put on more comfortable shoes, such as flats or sneakers, for walking.

  • Wash and thoroughly dry your feet every day. Check for any blisters, ingrown toenails, and other wounds.

  • Keep up the blood flow. Avoid sitting and crossing your legs for long periods of time. Stretching can help, too. Roll your ankles and spread out your toes.

 

Here are more stretches for your lower legs.

 

Online Medical Reviewer: Turley, Ray, BSN, MSN
Date Last Reviewed: 8/21/2015
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