It’s a weekday morning, you’re getting dressed for work, and you’re deciding which shoes to wear.
For most of us, the last thing on our minds is how our shoe choice will affect health, but it’s actually a really big deal.
The shoes you wear are more important than you may realize and either end of the spectrum – from the highest heels to the flattest of flats – may be bad for your health.
You know high heels aren’t great for your feet, but did you know they can cause serious damage?
Just look at what happened to Sarah Jessica Parker: Her non-stop wearing of stilettos and other fashion-forward shoes caused a bone deformity in her foot.
Now she sticks to well-made flats and only wears heels to red carpet events.
Here’s what happens to your feet in heels.
Any heel higher than two inches elevates your heel so that your Achilles tendon is forced into a shortened position. This can cause the painful condition Achilles tendonitis, which definitely doesn’t make you look fashionable.
But high heels also do damage to other parts of your foot.
The constant pressure from the elevated heel onto the ball of your foot thins out the fat intended to cushion when you step and you can wind up with metatarsalgia, (that’s a fancy word for yet another painful foot condition.)
Pro Tip: Only wear your high heeled shoes when you absolutely must – such as special events – and take them off while sitting.
Also consider a low profile orthotic that can be slipped into the shoe.
Skip the pointy toed numbers and look for a boxier tip or open toes to prevent scrunching your toes.
But a low heeled shoe comes with its own set of issues.
Ballet flats may seem like the perfect alternative to high heels since they are the polar opposite in footwear.
But the truth is that neither extreme is good.
Ballet flats can also result in damage to your feet, back, and rest of your body.
This is because ballet flats often come with little or no cushion or support.
And there are other issues too.
If the flats are too loose, forcing you to grip them with your toes, that continuous motion can cause your nails to curl inward. This means you can more easily end up with ingrown toenails and cuts that can become infected.
Flats can also cause a host of other foot issues.
Because of the lack of support, your arches can drop and the ligaments and tendons in the base of the foot can stretch or tear.
This can lead to plantar fasciitis, a very painful condition, that can make it difficult to walk.
Corns and callouses are other side effects of low-structure flats. Twisted ankles, stretched tendons in the legs, and knee damage can also be caused by ballet flats.
Pro Tip: If you can bend your ballet flat in half easily, there’s not enough structure there to protect your feet.
Skip flats that are too bendy.
Instead choose a high quality low heeled shoe that has padding in the heel, support in the arch, and plenty of room in the toe box so your toes are not compressed and your toenails don’t rub.
Some good brands to consider include Earthies Bindi, Abeo, Pluggz Iris and Vionic.
The shoes you choose don’t just impact your feet.
What you put on your feet actually affects your entire body.
Poor shoe choice can throw your ankles, knees, hips and entire spine out of alignment, which can lead to all sorts of other uncomfortable and potentially dangerous and debilitating health issues.
Unfortunately, many people don’t realize what a difference good shoes can make.
In our busy Seattle podiatry clinic, we frequently treat painful foot conditions caused solely by a bad choice of shoes.
The best shoes for everyday wear are well-made sneakers, but most people can’t wear them to work.
The next best thing are structurally sound, well-made shoes that put foot health first.
Thankfully, there are many shoe brands that offer arch support, balance, padding, and comfort – without sacrificing style.
Low heeled shoes are typically more supportive than a shoe without a heel or with an excessively high heel.
If you want extra height, we suggest a platform type shoe which offers extra overall height without excessive heel height and angulation that causes foot damage.
Pro tip: Make sure you keep your toenails trimmed up!
If you are dealing with hormone issues (common with pregnancy, puberty, menopause, etc.) the negative effects of poor shoe choice can be heightened due to rapid nail growth, so you might have to step up your trimming routine.
The bottom line is your overall health will benefit when you make a smart shoe choice rather than a “fashion first” option.
If your body is out of alignment, you can experience pain. Pain leads to stress, and we all know that stress leads to a whole lot of other health issues.
Think about that the next time you open your closet and consider what shoes you’ll wear today – bypass the heels and the ballet flats – your feet (and the rest of you) will thank you for it.
Dr. Doug Hale and Dr. Larry Huppin are founding partners of Seattle’s Foot and Ankle Clinic where they practice evidence-based medicine with an emphasis on biomechanics and orthotic therapy – rather than invasive surgery.