Visit our archive

Wearing high heels can be the source of foot deformities, sciatic nerve pain, knee pain, herniated discs and a range of other crippling maladies. But why am I telling you this…

You don’t even care!

Ladies, don’t even try to fool me for a second… I know you don’t care.

Right now in your head the subconscious wheels are turning, pre-discounting every comment this article is about to make. It wouldn’t matter if I came up with some statistic that showed your teeth would fall out from wearing high heels – you would simply discount it with a wave of your hand and a comment like “that’s why god invented dentures’.

If all women suddenly decided that they cared, there would be a collective rumble as one and all would gather all their berardis, ferrugias and guccis and ignite them all in a large bonfire the likes of which could be seen by the Mars Lander.

This would be immediately followed by a series of high fashion assassinations to which the french revolution pale in comparison (watch out, Blahnik -you’re first on the chopping block!).

This race in high heels is brought to you thanks to the generous support of your local podiatrists and physical therapy association. Every participant gets a free consult and shot of painkiller following the race.

This pricey piece of Manolo Blahnik costs $7000. Thats just for the left one (yep, thats $14,000 if you want the full pair). It should come with a chiropractor and bunion surgery 50% off voucher.

So maybe you DO care and I am being cynical. Maybe it’s not your fault. Lets look at how society has conditioned you to need these fashion tools of torture.

If you already wear heels on a regular basis, you have had the following yo-yo thought process probably as many times as you have worn heels:

Order of thinking for the ‘high-heeltarded’:

This is the kind of advertising that makes me queasy. I look at this and all I hear is: Yoouuu arreee inadequate...Youuu willl nevveerrr bee goood enouuugh... noooobody liiikes youuuu...Youuu haaaave noooo liiiiife - ok so maybe that last bit might be true 😉

Featuring your logical conscience, and your socially bred feelings of inadequacy

Woman in high heels gets out of car, takes first step and goes through standard thought process below:

“Oh man, these shoes kill! Why do I even wear these things?!”

“But my legs look so much nicer in them – and whatever would I match with my dress”

(second step, proceeding compression/impingement of every bone in the foot accompanied by searing pain)

“That is it! My back is already starting to hurt me, my toes are warping into some strange bonsai tree-looking disfigurement and I don’t even like this guy that much!”

“Oh but look at her shoes? She looks so glamorous in them! Maybe she looks a bit uncomfortable, but how would any man even notice her tear-streaked face and muffled cries of pain when she has such beautiful legs!”

And so you walk on, excruciating step after excruciating step, paying the price for beauty…

And even though I know you are held back by your guilt-laden fashion shackles, it is my dream that maybe… just maybe…. there is a little girl out there in cyberspace who has not yet had her mind corrupted by the collection of fashion magazines, womens shoe stores or the constant barrage of “sex and the city” reruns. Maybe it’s too late for you to change. I don’t think it is ever too late. Only you can know.

Look at those high-heel free legs! Now THAT's fabulous

Next time you think twice about wearing tennis shoes to work, think about these legs and remember that you can look just as good in sneakers no matter what you are doing.

But I look so good in heels! Surely standing in High Heels improves my posture?

When you are standing in the high heels, yes, your posture is improved – because if you did not stand tall then you would fall forward. By tilting the back heels up, our upper body instinctively leans back to prevent imminent toppling over.

But here’s the catch – if you stand in heels, then your feet are tilted up. This creates a chain reaction that can cause your hips to counterbalance your elevated heels by tilting the pelvis forward.

Standing in heels can cause your pelvis to tilt forward, putting excess pressure on your lower back.

Is that all? Of course not! If the pelvis learns to stay tilted forward (which can happen if you wear high heelsand/ or work at a desk most of the day) then as you can see above, when we stand our lower back is swayed in and our upper back must respond by arching back.

This chain reaction from the heels to the hips to the upper back has the potential to be a factor in pain and dysfunction in every joint throughout the body and other maladies associated with posture.

Urinary track infections can also be related to wearing High Heels. But dont’t take my word for it – click here to read an interesting article that references Larrian Gillespie, M.D.

Maybe I have been too harsh. Maybe not all of this information applies to you and you are careful and concerned about your feet. If that is the case, then I applaud you for putting your body and your feet before fashion.

Here is the take-home message I want this article to give you:

If you have foot problems, low back, knee, hip or neck pain, avoid high heeled shoes at every opportunity.

If you don’t have any problems, then please use these weapons of fashion in moderation. For your feets future. For your posture.

Experiment with different shoes. Play with your style. At least find something that you can wear to less important days/nights.

Look how happy Janice Dickenson is to be wearing something other than stilettos! (maybe her security guard date has something to do with it as well)

You can be glamorous, attractive and as fabulous as you want to be without artificial elevation. Just take a look at these fashion forward pics:

James Blunt loves flats. He thinks 'they're beautiful, it's true'

Jamie Atlas

Want some more fitness ramblings in your inbox? Make sure you subscribe to my rss feed!

Afternote: I got some great responses to this post, but was really excited to stumble across this other post (click here to view it) that reinforces the whole anti-heel thing and comes from a womans perspective (because I don’t wear heels – you try finding size 15 heels!)

After-afternote: If you wanted to take the attention away from your feet, you might want to look at the ‘perfect butt’ exercise combo I put together. You can read all about it (and watch a short video of the exercises) right here

  • jonathan Jul 28, 2008 Reply

    absolutely.. high heels is very dangerous.. a lot of foot deformitis can be happened.. can cause sprain, tear, etc. can also have bone deformities.. women should be aware of this one..

  • jamieatlas Jul 28, 2008 Reply

    So it’s not just me. Thanks Jonathan! I had some great responses to this article already.

    Apparently, in old China they created a process called “foot binding” which was designed to keep the feet small which was seen as a sign of beauty and almost all chinese women had this done for about a thousand years.

    It was said to make the woman able to dance more lightly (which is complete crap as it made simple acts such as walking an excruciating event.)

  • Dr Barry L Marks Jul 28, 2008 Reply

    Jamie…everything you say is true. Many of my female patients are suffering more due to their footwear. I often have to restrict them from heals for periods of time, which is always met with cold stares and a lot of arguing.

    Just know that although medical science is on your side, you could awaken to a very large, muddy boot in your bed or receive a sneaker rolled up in newspaper on your doorstep…be careful!

  • jamieatlas Jul 28, 2008 Reply

    Thanks for the heads up Dr Marks!
    I know this is not the popular thing to write about – I imagine you have had to do your fair share of dodging the nasty glares.

    I try to explain to my clients that although pain free, functional feet might not be in fashion today, there is always a chance it might come in next season – if it does then you would be pain free AND fashion forward! What we really need to do is corner Gucci in a small room and make him on the spot design a flat shoe that women would wear.

  • LouAkoo Jul 28, 2008 Reply

    Enjoyed your piece! I am a female and, as weird as it is, have never worn high heels, just never been into them! I value comfort and practicality over something that is supposed to look great, I really don’t think high heels look all that great! High heels are not clever or fun in my opinion! So “here here” I say!

    Let’s hope that high heels for babies don’t take off!

  • callith Jul 28, 2008 Reply

    Sneakers are evil. They’re not pretty and should only be worn at the gym. There are many other shoes besides sneakers.
    I love my red pumps. They’re fabulous. But I also love my high heels and can’t imagine what life would be like without them. Besides, I only wear them when I know I won’t be doing too much walking.

  • sjsmart Jul 28, 2008 Reply

    I spent several months living in Belarus and was just in awe of the young to middle aged women walking around in their stilettos in all weather. Sleet, snow, they didn’t care as long as they looked fashionable. Then the spring came and I started to venture out to the markets and saw the babooshki with their hump backs and slowed, pained gaits and I thought to myself….hmm, I wonder if there is any correlation. I guess there probably is.

  • sevenchange Jul 29, 2008 Reply

    High heels are very sexy. As a dude I find nothing looks better on women’s feet. That said, many heels can be painful for women. I look at them as decoration and not as functional attire. The less the woman walks in them the better. Moderation is key of course.

  • cindybin Jul 29, 2008 Reply

    I never wear high heels. They are uncomfortable and hard to walk in, and also in my opinion they give a bad impression–they kind of make a woman look TOO sexy or cheap. I do have a couple of pairs of dress shoes with a low heel but I hate wearing them–have only worn them to church and even then I can’t wait to get out of them. I prefer to go barefoot! It is sad, though, that so many women ruin their health and put themselves through being uncomfortable just so they can look what they think is “sexy”. And think of the type of man a woman is going to attract looking like that.

  • jamieatlas Jul 29, 2008 Reply

    Hey Cindy – thanks so much for your comment on my blog! I think women can look so amazing without needing high heels – and you have a couple of pairs for juuust in case you go somewhere where you will need them.
    I actually train some of my clients barefoot to try and get their feet to return to normal function – depending on the foot problems it can be the best medicine ever!

    Hooray for you for embracing the concept of ‘moderation’ 🙂

  • callith Jul 29, 2008 Reply

    But Jamie, that’s what everything in life should be like – done in moderation. High heels aren’t the problem; women just wear them every single day, and that’s the problem.

    And certain heel heights should not be worn.

    Cindy, I also like being barefoot. It’s divine. But you can’t go to work barefoot, nor can you go to church barefoot. I’m sure those ‘too sexy’ or ‘cheap’ looking women were wearing ‘too sexy’ or ‘cheap’ outfits, too. I like to wear classic styles: great pants or a pencil skirt with a blouse or any other monotone colour top. Yes, I look sexy, but it’s very much work appropriate. It’s how you wear your clothes that make you look cheap, not your shoes.

  • MizFit Aug 1, 2008 Reply

    Im doing one thing right with my sneakers and MBTs

    now to convince my husband 🙂

  • Emily Aug 5, 2008 Reply

    Oh man, I HATE hearing this, but I know it is so true! I wore some really high heels this weekend and got so many compliments, but I was in pain. I think I need to listen to my body next time. Thanks for being the voice of reason, Jamie 🙂

  • chicksnsticks Aug 10, 2008 Reply

    Thank you, thank you, THANK you! Now if we could just get the shoe and fashion mavens to realize this and make some cute, comfortable shoes.
    I HATE heels. They hurt, but it is so hard to find nice looking, supportive shoes that look good with a dress (I prefer dresses to pants). but I decided my health is more important than fashion, so if that means sneakers, then so be it!
    The fashion police can bite me!

  • jamieatlas Aug 10, 2008 Reply

    Thanks Emily! I love being called a ‘voice of reason’ (it beats all the other things I have been called, that’s for sure!).

    Chicksnsticks – the fashion mavens are coming – all of us need to make sure that we keep the movement going. We can do so in the following: Whenever you see someone wearing high heels say ‘oh… I bet your toes just look hideous under there’. And whenever you see someone wearing flats or reasonably low heels, say to the person ‘Oh my god. Look at those heels. Those are so hot – I keep seeing all kinds of sexy superstars wearing those. Do you even know how fashion-forward you are right now?’

    What do you think? Workable strategy? Try it and let me know how it goes!

  • callith Aug 13, 2008 Reply

    But Jamie, my feet are so cute; I have regular pedicures. I think it’s such a misconception that people who wear high heels automatically have horrible looking feet.

    It is possible to wear heels two or three times a week and still have pretty feet. I’m sure many of the girls who wear flats still do not take good care of their feet… I might be wrong, though, so apologies to all those who pamper their feet and only wear flats.

  • callith Aug 13, 2008 Reply

    Emily, try wearing heels that are comfortable. No need to wear 10-inch heels. Shop around and find heels you can walk in. It’s possible!

    But do not wear high heels every single day. You’re not Carrie from SATC. 😉 Once, twice or even three times a week is fine.

  • Josie Aug 17, 2008 Reply

    Thank you Callith i totally agree even though i am not a fan of heels i wear them occasionally to church, dinners etc.

  • Norma Chase Aug 21, 2008 Reply

    I have not worn high heels (or even medium heels) since 1983.

    A previous Significant Other could not believe that there was no social occasion for which I would put on heels in the interest of conformity. Once we were in the women’s section of a shoe store and, just to needle me, he picked up a pair of shoes with clunky two inch heels and said “I think these would be just perfect.”

    My response was “You can’t tell by looking. Try them on.”

  • fredsal6 Nov 26, 2008 Reply

    The truth is that human feet were not designed for high heels. Wearing high heels can change the structure and shape of the feet, which not only causes pain along the way, but may also inhibit proper functioning of feet over time.

    Women experience pain when they wear high heels because their feet slide forward into the shoes, inevitably forcing their bodies to redistribute their weight while creating unnatural pressure points and disrupting the natural alignment of our body.

    There are numerous foot ailments related to wearing high heels. Some of the most common ones are metatarsalgia (ball of foot pain), bunions, callous and corns, Achilles Tendonitis, hammertoe, and many others.

    Wearing orthotic insoles designed for high heels will probably relieve some of the discomfort.

    You can find more information on this topic under “Ball of Foot Pain” at

  • jamieatlas Nov 27, 2008 Reply

    This is a great post, thanks for the info – I am not sure I always recommend orthotic insoles, but in some cases it can really help. Be sure to check out the above foot link, but also go see a local professional to get some hands on assessment work done as well!

  • Bellatrix Jan 16, 2009 Reply

    I hate heels. I can never understand why so many women claim to wear them to look taller. Have they never heard of platforms? (the flay type)

  • me May 27, 2009 Reply

    hmm.. i love my legs when I wear heels.. It lengthens and slims them and I can walk well in them. But I too, prefer to be barefoot or wear strappy flats..

    Moderation.. if my feet start to hurt one bit.. the flip flops are going on.

    • jamieatlas May 28, 2009 Reply

      Like your approach sister! Moderation is the key – of course, unless you like wearing them Prada stiletto pointy toe boots. There ain’t no good reason for wearing those.. unless it’s in the bedroom! Rwwwwoooaar!

  • […] And my favorite article?   It is a rant on a favorite topic of mine, High Heels […]

  • maya Mar 20, 2010 Reply

    Your right, but your crazy! Girls need to wear heals, I am 21 and I’ve seen older woman with heals, they seem so capable, and “with it”. You can’t get that image with flats, it just doesn’t work. And more importantly, if your short -I’m 5’2, heels are a must.

  • Hazel Jun 17, 2010 Reply

    Maya – short girls do not need to wear heels. I’m 5’2 as well, just like you are! I do not wear heels – why would I need to? Sure, everyone else is a giant but since I’ve always been shorter than other people of my age, I’m totally used to it. You can look really spiffy and businesslike in low shoes – wear petite, tailored clothes and boom, you’re there. The shoes don’t make much of a difference – it’s all in your head. Remember on Gok Wan’s Naked shows, where pretty much all the women thought their problem areas were bigger than they were? Same here. It’s just social conditoning. Ignore it! 🙂

  • JustFab Jan Mar 23, 2012 Reply

    Found this after searching Google for high heels and pain. I have been wearing heels for a long long time and am starting to notice not only foot pain but back pain. My husband is also noticing that my posture is off a bit. After reading this post I think I might have to ease off on the super high heeled shoes from now on.

  • Name (Required)

  • Email (Required, but not published)

  • Url (Optional)

  • Comment (Required)