It’s not just stilettos and very high heels—pumps of all height can cause foot pain, heel pain, and seriously compromise your foot health. How high is too high?

By Rachael Schultz
May 14, 2016
Corbis Images

Nothing makes you feel quite as sexy as a great pair of heels. They give you legs for days, boost your butt, not to mention compliment pretty much any outfit perfectly. But suffering for fashion's sake can leave you with more than just sore tootsies-high heels can actually do permanent damage to the ligaments and bones in your lower half. (As for immediate relief, find out How to Relieve Foot Pain After a Night of High Heels.)

Let's start with this: Walking in three-and-a-quarter inch heels could prematurely age your joints, because it causes changes to your gait similar to what is seen in aging in those with arthritic knees, shows a new study in the Journal of Orthopaedic Research. "The heels make it much harder to allow the knee to straighten when it needs to. This then puts more pressure for longer periods of time on the kneecap and the inside of the knee, making it more likely to wear away faster," explains study author Constance Chu, M.D., professor of orthopaedic surgery at Stanford University.

And sky-high heels do more than just age your joints. Wearing them increases your risk for ankle sprains, stress fractures, pinched nerves, and shortening of the achilles tendon, and exacerbate conditions like bunions and hammertoes, warns Hillary Brenner, New York-based podiatric surgeon and spokesperson for the American Podiatric Medical Association. In addition to affecting other areas of your life (like simply walking), each of these foot issues can compromise your workout. Yikes!

Even scarier? Three and a quarter inches isn't even that high compared to what most of us wear! "The higher the heel, the more potential there is for problems, but this makes it hard for most of us who want to look sharp without compromising our health-even I find it hard to purchase attractive shoes with heels less than three inches high!" says Chu. (Consider these 13 Cute Shoes That Are Good for Your Feet.)

You're safest with heels under two inches, and wedges or thick heels are preferable to stilettos, Brenner says. "The wider the surface of the heel, the more support there is for the arch of your foot, decreasing the risk for permanent damage," she adds.

If you can't part with your Louboutins (understandable!), try to park it as much as possible: "You should try to not wear heels for longer than two to three hours a day, but the clock stops when you're sitting," Brenner says. (And counteract the damage by doing these Exercises for Women Who Wear High Heels.)

But heels add to more than just your outfit. "Some women wear heels because it causes the legs and butt to appear more shapely," Chu points out. Score this perk permanently-and without putting your feet at risk-with this 12-Minute Booty-Boost Workout or Jada Pinkett Smith's Look-Hot-From-Behind Butt Workout.


Sources: APMA; Terry Mitchell, Medical Director of Vionic Group LLC, an orthotic shoe company; Hebrew SeniorLife Institute for Aging Research; JFAS; Archives of Sexual Behavior; UAB; American Podiatric Medical Association.