What Wearing High Heels Actually Does to Your Body

Are high heels bad for you? In short, it turns out that, yeah, they pretty much are. A quick glance at different medical and podiatry sites around the web reveals that physicians would probably be happiest if we quit wearing them altogether. Your favorite stilettos can be the cause of everything from annoying blisters on your toes to long-term nerve damage in your spine. And although the history of high heels proves they've had practical intentions, this list takes you from the tips of your toes to the top of your back, documenting the most considerable health problems that can result from too much partying in platforms.

After reading, if you still insist on wearing heels, maybe consider checking out some of the recommendations from podiatrists that can help offset some of the negative side-effects of long-term heel wear-age.

Wondering what the health effects of wearing high heels are, then? Read on to learn about what they really do to you and why you're probably better off in flats.


  • They Shorten Your Calf Muscles

    They Shorten Your Calf Muscles
    Photo: HBO

    Though elongating the leg is kind of the point of wearing high heels, it turns out they actually produce the opposite effect on the body over time. One of the not-so-pretty side effects of high heels is shortened calf muscles. It’s a chain-reaction thing, so bear with me for a second. Basically, walking in heels strains your Achilles tendons, which anchor your calf muscles to your heels. So, when the Achilles get strained, they cause the calf muscles to bunch up. Over time, this can result extreme calf tightness and an overall shortening of a heel wearer’s calves.

  • They May Lead to Premature Osteoarthritis

    They May Lead to Premature Osteoarthritis
    Photo: MGM

    Osteoarthritis is a type of joint disease created when the cartilage around your joints breaks down so much that the bone underneath it starts to wear down, too. It causes joints to swell, become stiff and painful, and decreases their range of motion.

    Long-term high heel wearing can indirectly result in osteoarthritis in a number of joints in a heel wearer’s body. The knees especially are particularly susceptible. Frequent heel-ing puts extra stress on your joints, which speeds up the wear and tear on them. This wear and tear then speeds you down the road to osteoarthritis.

  • They Can Damage Your Spine

    They Can Damage Your Spine
    Photo: LOGO

    According to the Spine Health Institute, displaced vertebra and lower back pain aren’t the only consequences prolonged high heel wearing can have on the back. There’s a chronic spinal nerve condition called foramina stenosis that some develop from their stilettos.

    The spinal foramen are bony, hollow archways in the spine through which your nerves run. Maintaining their arched, spacious shape is important because, without it, the nerves running through them can become compressed and damaged (think sciatica). The posture required to walk in high heels, combined with the force and strain they put on your body, can cause the foramen to become compressed and result in nerve damage. This damage can cause a whole host of unpleasant and painful symptoms, like shooting pains, numbness, tingling, muscle weakness, spasms, cramping, and pain that runs all the way through the legs.

  • They Tighten Your Knee Joints

    The knee joint is the largest joint in the body, and it’s built to absorb high levels of force. A team of researchers at Stanford University found that wearing high heels can put so much force on the knees that it prematurely ages them. Repeat. This is not a drill. Really high high heels force your knees to bend further forward than walking barefoot or in flat shoes does. This increased forward bending can bring on premature osteoarthritis in heel wearers and contribute to stress fractures and trapped nerves in the legs.

  • They Can Cause Foot Disorders Like Plantar Fasciitis

    They Can Cause Foot Disorders Like Plantar Fasciitis
    Photo: Disney

    Plantar fasciitis is a disorder of the foot that results in pain in the heel and bottom of the foot. It affects the part of your foot where ligament attaches to bone, and is characterized by micro tears in the ligament, breakdown of collagen, and scarring. Often associated with long-distance running, it can also be caused by walking in high heels. High heels strain the Achilles tendon (which is how they can shorten our calves), and a strained Achilles tendon exacerbates foot issues like plantar fasciitis.

  • They Can Contribute to Spider Veins

    Spider veins are one of the more unpleasant cosmetic consequences of high heel-age. Spider veins are the (mostly) little clusters of visible veins that can come to the surface of the leg when blood circulation is restricted. Wearing high heels causes your calf muscles to contract less than when you're in flats. This means less blood is "pushed out" of your legs, increasing your venous blood pressure, which can stress the valves in your veins, leading to overall vein issues like spider veins. And, while spider veins are usually more of a cosmetic problem than a painful one, some people do experience physical discomfort from them. For some, they create an itching and burning sensation.