Dr. Jackie Sutera is a New York City podiatrist and the newest member of Vionic’s Innovation Lab. She treats patients from all walks of life, but specializes in foot health issues that affect women every day. We sat down with Dr. Jackie to get some straight answers about an issue that’s been on all of our minds: high heels.
Many women experience pain underfoot while wearing heels. Can you explain what’s happening?
There is a fat pad under the forefoot that starts to atrophy naturally over time, due to age and changes throughout a woman’s life. Additionally, there’s the wear-and-tear that happens specifically due to overuse of improper footwear (high heels, flat flip flops, unsupportive ballet flats and even walking barefoot). The natural tissue cushioning under your metatarsals becomes thinner, resulting in pain.
How long can a person wear high heels without doing major damage to their feet?
Dr. Jackie: After 3-4 hours of wearing heels, many women start to feel some level of discomfort and pain. This can be dependent on foot type, heel height, body weight, the type of surface they’re standing on and the activity they’re doing while wearing heels.
Is there a height limit? What is totally out of range of what’s “healthy”?
Dr. Jackie: The American Podiatric Medical Association (APMA) recommends keeping your heels two inches or lower. Above two inches is where the heel starts to get into unhealthy territory. When a heel reaches over four inches, I would say it is truly damaging. Stick with wedges and platforms to give you some height and better distribute body weight across a greater surface area.
What can happen with chronic overuse of high heels?
Dr. Jackie: The overuse of high heels can shorten the Achilles tendon because the foot and ankle are elevated off the ground and your full body weight is shifted forward. The Achilles tendon adapts to this position, and over time it will tighten and shorten permanently. Not only does this cause pain, but it can make it harder for women to walk barefoot or wear comfortable ballet flats once this anatomical shift occurs.
Check out some of Dr. Jackie’s best high heel tips in the video below, and be sure to have a look at Vionic’s good-for-you heel and wedge styles.