“Tiis-ganda”: this is how we Filipinas refer to the discomfort we endure when wearing fashionable pieces that are not necessarily easy to carry around. As long as we look good in them, we’re willing to weather with the pain, the weight, the tightness, and the cramps just to appear as close as we can to the tall and skinny supermodels that wear them. Times are changing and so is the fashion world. There are now so many ways to look like you stepped out of a fashion magazine cover without sacrificing foot comfort.
High Heels: more harm than good
Shoes were invented by man to do one simple thing – protect the feet from the elements. But as civilization progressed, basic everyday items like the shoe have evolved into different forms and types that today dictate what is fashionably trendy and what is not.
According to Dr. Natalie A. Nevins, a California osteopathic physician, wearing certain types of high heels for prolonged periods of time can lead to a myriad of foot problems such as blisters, bunions, calluses, ingrown toenails, leg tendon damage, nerve damage, plantar fasciitis, leg muscle injury, swelling of the legs, knee osteoarthritis and even lower back pain. This is because your foot is forced into the unnatural shape of your shoe – the heels are elevated about several inches higher than the toes, forwarding all your weight forward.
High heels also cause your full body weight to be incorrectly redistributed, bringing all the pressure towards your toes. When weight is increased towards the front of your foot, your body is forced to tilt forward as well in order to compensate. At this posture, you try to compensate by leaning backward and overarching your back, putting a strain on your lower back, hips, and knees.
This position also alters the natural curvature of the spine and puts pressure on your back’s nerves. Trapped nerves can lead to sciatica – a painful condition brought about by spinal nerve compression.
The pain doesn’t stop there. Wearing high heels over prolonged periods of time can shorten your calf and back muscles that can lead to muscle pain and spasms. You can also develop shorter than normal Achilles tendon when your heels are always pointed upwards.
Also, did I mention that wearing high heels can bring you closer to accidents that involve twisting, spraining and even dislocating your ankle?
Keeping the pain at bay
If you have been wearing high heels, you may have already developed some of the foot problems mentioned above. To stop further agony, the simple solution is to minimize (if it’s not possible to totally stop) wearing high-heeled shoes. If you need to wear high heels during special occasions, you can opt for better alternatives that won’t hurt as much. Here are some tips on how to choose less painful high heels:
- Select the right shoe size. If you were a size 5 back in college, that doesn’t mean that you’re still a size 5 after mothering 3 kids. Your foot size grows as you get older so it’s best to have yourself measured before buying footwear. Always try on new shoes before buying them – walk them around the department store for a while to see if they’re still comfortable after some time.
- Choose thicker heels. Thin-heeled shoes (also known as “stilettos”) can give your feet a harder time balancing your entire body weight into a few millimeters of surface area, causing you to wobble especially in uneven terrain. Chunkier heels are more stable.
- Go strapless. Some prefer strappy sandals because they look “sexy” but there is nothing sexy about straps that rub and cut through your skin after wearing them for a whole day!
- Keep it under 3 inches. If you cannot work a flat pair of shoes into your wardrobe, choose low to mid-range heels that are lower than 3 inches.
- Try platforms. Platforms are shoes that elevate the foot completely from the ground, so it’s still basically flat footwear. It still practically makes you look taller, without the pain of high heels.
- Look for heels made from a rubbery material. Shoes with soles made from rubber-like materials absorb pressure better thank those made from plastic, leather or wood.
- Take a break. If you are working on your own desk waiting for the next meeting of the day, consider taking off your shoes for a few minutes to stretch your toes and ankles. You can wear flats temporarily and just change back to your heels when needed.
- Go for more coverage on the top of your foot. Boots and high-cut shoes, in general, provide better comfort throughout the day and more stability when you walk.
You don’t necessarily have to be in high heels to look fashionable, but if you must, always remember you have options to minimize the discomfort.