Is it too much to ask for high heels that look amazing, but don’t make your feet (or back, or legs) feel like they are trudging through the nine circles of hell? Judging by the heel selection these days (in addition to dismal offerings of history), it seems like the answer is yes.
The fashionable footwear wasn’t always seen as an evil torture device, however. In fact, the heel was actually created for good. Persian horseman originally rocked heeled shoes, which helped them stand in their stirrups as they rode into battle. Once the shoes hit Europe, they became a fashionable accessory for noble men, notably France's Sun King, Louis XIV. Once women began wearing them, though, the heel took a turn to the dark side. Once the fairer sex got their hands (and feet) on them, heels became longer and skinnier and the shoes themselves became extremely uncomfortable to wear.
But whoever let a little pain stop them from looking fabulous?
Over the years, high heel wearers have developed methods to help them cope with the uncomfortable side effects of having gorgeous kicks. While some seem legit, others are a bit more outlandish.
For shoes and giggles, we’ve rounded up some of the most popular hacks foot fashionistas use to make fashion more about beauty, and much less about pain.
Tape may help those tootsies.
Have you heard the one about taping your third and fourth toes together to stop your feet from hurting? While some claim this urban legend provides comfort, others believe it may actually make your pain worse.
Danielle Chenoweth, a heel enthusiast and fitness consultant in Pasadena, Maryland, is a firm believer in the taping method.
“It helps to numb the nerves of the foot and the heels don’t bother me as much,” she says. “I can walk much longer than normal and wear them throughout a 10-hour work day.”
On the other hand, Dr. Steven L. Rosenberg, a podiatrist in private practice in Santa Monica, California, and creator of Instant Arches, worries the taping method can actually cause more harm than good.
“Taping toes together does not prevent toe pain,” he claims. “It could even magnify the pain just by having something press against an injured area.”
If you decide to try the trick, use the third and fourth toes starting from the big toe. Use tape that feels comfortable and wrap it tight enough around the toes so that they stay together, but not so much that you lose feeling in them. However, finding a pair of shoes that isn’t so painful may be your best approach.
Padding for your piggies is a real thing.
Your toes deserve to relax. After all, you put them through a lot during the day. You can treat them right while you're on your feet, though, by placing padding in your shoes.
“Tailor the inside of your shoe just for your foot,” recommends shoe expert and author Meghan Cleary. “What this means is use padding on the inside of the shoe in all the places the shoe rubs, is tight, or pinches, before you ever wear those shoes for the first time. Use Heavenly Heelz and Strappy Strips by Foot Petals, or moleskin foam from the drugstore. Cut them up and put them on the inside of the shoe. You can thank me later!”
You can also use moleskin—a heavy, cotton fabric—to protect blisters you may already have. Place it on your painful areas before sliding your toes into your new shoes. The protection can stop them from rubbing against the shoe and making your blisters worse.
Blister sticks can also help in a pinch. Rub the product over your sores to offer them a bit of protection from a harsh-feeling shoe.
Advice From the Experts
Simply put, high heels have poor form. Their design goes against the foot laws of nature, which is why heel aficionados experience such pain while wearing them.
“High heels place pressure on the ball of the foot because of how the shoe is designed,” says Rosenberg. “The greater the pitch or angle downward the shoe has, the more pressure the ball of the foot will experience. It can also affect the arch of the foot and cause muscle fatigue and muscle cramping and spasms depending on the length of time the woman wears her shoes.”
Over time, wearing heels can also cause discomfort and destruction in other parts of your body, as well. Long-time stem sporters can look forward to low back pain and lower leg fatigue, not to mention corns and calf damage.
And despite its heroic name, your Achilles tendon is no match for those harrowing heels, according to Rosenberg:
Long-term wear of high heels can shorten your Achilles tendon, so it would be harder to get your heel on the ground barefoot. It shortens it when wearing them for years, and unless you continue to stretch the Achilles daily, it could be a problem.
Despite this news, it doesn’t mean heel lovers are destined to a lifetime of flats. When you practice these simple tips when looking for your next pair of stems, it’s a shoe-in you’ll find a pair that gives you all the (good) feels.
Here, it definitely matters.
We’ve all been there: you find the perfect shoe but it’s not available in your size. Suddenly, your foot shrinks or grows a few sizes and you end up purchasing a shoe you’ll need a footwear miracle to fit into.
“The biggest mistake people make when wearing high heels is wearing heels that are too small for them,” says Cleary. “It seems like this would be obvious but make sure you are wearing a high heel that is actually your size. Too big will also be uncomfortable. So be real with your shoe size and buy the right size for you!”
And if you’re thinking about taking one for the fashion team by donning your ill-fitting shoes even for just one night, think again. Wearing the wrong size can put a world of hurt on you and your feet.
“Women think they can make it work even if the shoe does not fit properly,” Rosenberg says. “If their foot is not right for a particular pair of shoes or shoe style, they will have problems as soon as they start to wear them.”
Higher isn’t always best.
It’s been said that the higher the heel, the closer to heaven you are. While that may be true, you’re probably going to have a painful time climbing that stairway to heaven if you’re rocking a pair of stilettos.
Although gorgeous, shoes that feature long and skinny heels are often the most difficult to walk in. They can also inflict the most damage, says Rosenberg:
The greater the pitch or slope, the greater the stress on the ball of the foot, knees, and low back. If a woman has bunions and the heels have a narrow toe box, it can aggravate the joint and cause discomfort, redness, and pain.
Instead of ensuring a future trip to the orthopedist by wearing these shoes you may not have any business wearing, go low-key when it comes to heel height.
“The ‘sweet spot’ for heel height is between two and three inches,” says Cleary. “In fact, most podiatrists recommend having some kind of heel, as totally flat is not great either.”
Cleary also suggests giving your potential future shoes a good once-over to ensure your heel is situated in the appropriate position.
“Make sure the heel is balanced. By that I mean make sure the heel isn't placed too far back on the shoe," she explains. "You want the actual heel to fall right underneath the heel of your foot for maximum stability.”
Natural is usually better.
Heels are typically made out of wood, vinyl, or plastic. On top of the heel’s already awkward design, these tough materials can make wearing your kicks an even more painful experience. Looking for a pair that features comfortable and more forgiving material can make all the difference between looking divine and feeling like death.
Leather or fabric, for instance, not only offer your feet some give, but they also allow you the opportunity to create a custom fit, says Cleary:
Make sure you buy a shoe that's leather or fabric. Leather is a material that stretches to form to your foot and so will fabric. If the shoes are leather, spritz them down with water and then wear them until they are dry. The leather will form perfectly to your foot.
Heels for days is doing you no favors.
Just about every outfit can benefit from a pair of heels. However, wearing them day in and day out isn’t a good idea for your body. Give them a rest by alternating the type of shoe you wear.
“When I get out of work I immediately put on flip flops, which helps my body to relax,” says Chenoweth. “Also, I change my shoes daily. I wear a lot of sneakers to helps balance my heel wearing. I choose a lot of block heels, which help with my ailments, and wedges are my best friends.”
Switching back and forth between flat shoes and heels offers your feet and body a break. It’s true that heels look great when wearing a skirt or dress, as they help to elongate your legs. But when you’re wearing pants, go ahead and get your flats on. You’ll look amazing.
Friction isn’t your friend.
You know that horrible feeling you can experience when your foot rubs up against your heels and every step is a nightmare? This is usually the result of friction, which can cause painful blisters and sores.
Beat the blisters by covering your feet with clear deodorant. Pay special attention to areas that are prone to developing blisters, such as the joints in your toes, the back of your heel, and the top of your foot where the shoe’s edge can rub. Let your feet dry then allow your heels be the star of the show.