Combating High Heel Pain

Choosing flats over high heels was dubbed “flatgate” by the media.

While celebrities and fashion routinely make news, during last month’s Cannes Film Festival in France, the Hollywood Reporter to CNN to USA Today jumped all over reports that some women were turned away from a gala premiere. The reason? They weren’t wearing high heels.

“Multiple guests, some older with medical conditions, were denied access to the anticipated world premiere screening for wearing rhinestone flats,” according to the trade publication Screen International.

While they may be fashionable, constantly keeping a pair of high heels on your feet can lead to a variety of foot issues, from painful ingrown nails to more serious foot issues such as bunions.

In fact, the American Osteopathic Association reports that one in 10 women wear high heels at least three days per week. Meanwhile, data shows that high heels are one of the biggest contributors to foot problems in women, with up to 30 percent suffering permanent problems from prolonged wear.

But while most people have heard about high heels, not everyone knows about the issues they can cause, such as bunions.

In essence, it’s a bony hump that forms where the big toe attaches to the foot. Because it’s located on a joint — where the toe bends during walking — a person’s full body weight presses on the bunion with every step, meaning they can be very painful.

Meanwhile, depending on severity, treatments for bunions vary. It can range from medication to ease swelling, to custom shoe inserts, to surgery in more severe cases.

The good news is that picking the right footwear can go a long way in preventing bunions. Here are a few tips:

  • Pick shoes that have a wide and deep area that surrounds the toes. Look for shoes with low or flat heels coupled with good arch support. Make sure there’s space between the end of your longest toe and the end of the shoe.
  • Avoid constant wear of tight, narrow, or high-heeled shoes. This type of footwear tends to put pressure on the big toe joint.
  • Don’t buy or constantly wear shoes that cramp or irritate your toes.
  • Wear shoes that conform to the shape of your foot without squeezing or pressing
  • Avoid shoes with pointy-toes.

While it’s often pretty clear a patient has a bunion from the pain it create — and the unusual shape of the big toe that comes with it – it’s a good idea to get diagnosed by a specialist such as a podiatrist. The right doctor can work on the problem with you and will usually try conservative measures to try alleviating problem so you can get back on your feet!

Dr. Mariano Rivera, Podiatric Physician, Profile, Picture, Healthy Living Chicago

By Mariano Rivera

Ankle N Foot Centers

Combating High Heel Pain – Printable PDF


Edited by Sean Paler


  1. Dr. Michael Veerman

    High Heels can really hurt not only your feet but other parts of you body as well. They cause improper gait, bunions and so much more. Even though they may make your butt, legs and outfit look nice, they may be causing more harm than the compliments you are receiving. Proper footwear can help with back, hip, knee, and foot pain.

  2. Dr. Smitherman

    High heels may be a major contributor to other problems up the kinetic chain. As a chiropractor I see patients whos high heals has caused a significant portion of their low back pain by altering posture and gait. Some people are lucky and will never experience problems, but we are all unique, high heels may be the foundation of many musculoskeletal conditions.


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