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High Heel and Flip Flop Health Tips (Video)

August 03, 2016
Woman in high heels

High heel enthusiasts know all too well the pain that comes along with standing in a beautiful pair of shoes with a heel. We’ve all heard the saying “beauty is painful,” but could that temporary pain lead to permanent damage?

Dr. Tara Futrell, a pediatrician and adult medicine physician who specializes in sports medicine, talks about what your favorite pair of heels is actually doing to your posture, and offers some tips that could spare you the pain.

High Heels

Those stilettos may look great, but many high heel fans can tell you how they also experience low back pain and sore feet, knees, and ankles.

So, what is the pain trying to tell you? When you wear a high heel shoe, your heels are raised up off of the ground, which decreases your ankle stability. The majority of your weight is pushed to the front of your foot, over the ball of your foot and your toes. This sets your body off balance. It not only affects your posture, but actually shortens the calf muscle and Achilles tendon. To offset the forward movement in your balance and posture, the pelvis often tilts to compensate.

This shortening of the calf and Achilles tendon can have an adverse effect, causing discomfort and pain. The alteration in your pelvic tilt and posture can cause tightness in the back of the calf or the leg and lower back.

Not Just High Heels

The other extreme, flip flops (like high heels), can have a major effect on posture. They can even change the way you walk.

There have been studies on how our gait, or the way we walk, changes when we wear flip flops. Since the shoe isn’t secure on the foot, your gait is shortened. You take smaller steps. As you continue with the stride and swing your leg though, the shoe starts to come off the foot. To compensate, the toes often will engage and squeeze to keep the shoe on your foot. The instinctual reaction of most people is to then plant your foot down to keep it from slipping.

The shortening of your stride from wearing flip flops, like high heels, can similarly lead to soreness of the legs and feet. And if you don't wear flip flops in a suitable environment, you could wind up with an injury. Don’t wear them on a hike, somewhere you need more support, or somewhere where there is a risk of a foot injury or a sprained ankle.

If you do start to experience foot pain, you may want to think about the flip flops you’re wearing. There are flip flops on the market with some more arch and heel support.

Prevent Pain

If you are someone who likes to wear high heels frequently, there are a few things you can do to help prevent the tightness:

  • Moderation is the key. Try to avoid wearing heels or flip flops on a daily basis to help prevent soreness.
  • Vary your heel heights, as the higher the heel the greater the changes on your body.
  • Do some simple exercise to stretch out the ankles, calves, and hamstrings.

The most important thing to prevent long term problems is to stretch, strengthen, and be mindful of your posture when exercising.

Permanent Damage

If you love your high heels and flip flops, there’s no evidence in the literature that supports these types of footwear causing long-term damage to the body.

We know that wearing high heels and flip flops can change your posture and gait. However, there’s no good evidence that supports that wearing these types of footwear can lead to permanent complications of the foot, such as planter fasciitis, Achilles tendonitis, and lower back or any similar ailments. If you do experience pain, talk to your doctor.