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High-heel shoes may help a woman stand tall with confidence but there's a dirty little secret about the fancy heels, they can cause major foot problems.

Runners risk more foot problems if they wear heels

by Katy Nielsen and Malena Caruso
March 07, 2012


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High heels cause damage to other areas of the body not just to the feet.


The relative heel height doesn't include the platform of the shoe.

Heels photo 1

Katy Nielsen & Malena Caruso/MEDILL

Runners who wear high heels have an elevated risk of foot problems.

shoe lace

Katy Nielsen and Malena Caruso/MEDILL

Podiatrist Rodney Stuck suggests runners use a lock lace pattern to prevent their foot from sliding forward in their shoes.


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Dr. Stuck, podiatrist at Loyola University Health System in Maywood, shows how wearing high heels puts pressure on the forefoot or balls of the feet.

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Runners who wear high heels may be at a greater risk for foot, knee and back injury.

Podiatrist Rodney Stuck of Loyola University Health System said high heels are the leading cause of ingrown toenails, or onychocryptosis. But for runners, the physical problems of wearing high-heels can be worsened and lead to even more severe problems than the average high-heels wearer because of additional strain.

“If I wear heels all day and then I go running I can actually feel the bones in my foot stretching out afterwards because they’ve been compressed all day,” said Katie West, 27, a student living in the Loop. “It hurts around the balls of my feet and I’ve noticed I’ve started to get a bunion from wearing pointy-toed heels.”

High heels may lead to many physical problems, including lower back pain and hip soreness, osteoarthritis, hammertoes, plantar fasciitis, dislocated toes, calluses, joint pain, bunions and sprained ankles.

 “While running I feel the impact more after I wear heels,” West said. “I notice a lot of pain my calves and knees from I think wearing heels and not stretching as much as I should before I go running.”

West runs between two and three times weekly and said she has stopped wearing heels in an effort to reduce the pain in his knees and lower back. Another runner agreed with West, that it’s easier to avoid wearing heels altogether than to endure the pain they cause.

“I don’t like high heels, I just don’t wear them because they’re so uncomfortable,” said Roxie Semeniv, 20, an ice skater and student. “I run every day and my feet don’t hurt, but after I wear heels my feet are sore, my back hurts, it’s just a different kind of pain.”

For runners, the physical problems caused by high heels are worsened because of the additional strain runners already put on their bodies.

Doctors warn runners that wearing heels can contribute to other problems, including muscle pain in the lower back and calves. The type of gym shoe can contribute to these problems.

“As you increase in mileage, the laces become looser and your foot slides to the front and your toe slides to the front of the shoe,” Stuck said.

This can lead to a number of ailments including hammertoe, joint pain and calluses, all of which are problems that high heels can worsen.

George Solomos, a Northbrook-based personal trainer who also runs to stay in shape, said running stimulates the small muscles in the legs and calves more than many other kinds of workouts.

Stretching is crucial for runners, Solomos said. Wearing high heels can worsen already tight or sore muscles.

Improper footwear, such as high heels that cause the toes to be squeezed together, can cause a neuroma, or pinched nerve, especially in people with flat feet.

The American Podiatric Medical Association website recommends that women avoid high-heeled shoes higher than two inches. Shoes at this height can increase pressure on the forefoot area and lead to this nerve problem.
Running can aggravate a neuroma caused by wearing high-heeled shoes.

According to orthopoedic surgeon Alex Ghanayem from Loyola University Health System in Maywood, wearing high heels can put the spine and hips out of alignment, which can increase pressure on the toes.

Cole Haan and Nike teamed up to create a more foot-friendly heel, and both Stuck and Ghanayem said the shoe is comfortable and a move in the right direction for fashion meeting comfort.

“It’s not that you have to give them up completely, but limit your exposure,” Stuck said. So for runners who like to wear heels the news isn’t all terrible, but runners need to be smarter than the average person about how often they slip on high-heeled shoes.