The health of your feet is probably one of the most underappreciated yet important keys to your overall health. Each foot contains 26 bones, 33 joints, 107 ligaments, 19 muscles and associated tendons – all taking tremendous pounding over the years. It’s estimated that 75% of Americans will experience foot problems in their lifetime. While both men and women suffer from foot problems, it’s commonly cited by experts that women are more likely than men to have foot problems. 

According to the American Osteopathic Association, high heels are one of the biggest factors leading to foot problems in women, with up to 1/3 suffering permanent problems because of constant wearing of high heels. A recent study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology found that high heels can permanently change the way you walk (even without heels) and put you at greater risk for strain injuries. Chronic heel use can also result in ingrown toenails, nerve damage, bunions and irreversible leg tendon damage. The increased weight on your toes makes your body to move forward making you lean backwards and overarch your back, straining your knees, hips, and lower back possibly resulting in sciatica. 

Don’t let yourself get sidelined from physical activity because of preventable foot problems. For example, a bunion surgery can take 6 weeks to 6 months of recovery time. The National Foot Health Assessment survey showed that the percent of adults participating in physical activity is reduced almost in half if their foot health is rated fair/poor. 

Here are some helpful hints I found from the American Osteopathic Association to minimize the health risks from chronic heel-use: 

  • Choose shorter heels or flats more often. If you wear heels, pick ones that are less than 1.5 inches with a wide heel base;
  • Use insoles to reduce the impact on your knees;
  • Make sure your shoes are the right size so your foot doesn’t slide forward- which will put even more pressure on your toes. Pick a shoe with a wide enough toe box to let your toes wiggle;
  • Limit wearing heels on days when your schedule will include lots of walking or standing;
  • Alternate your shoe. Avoid wearing high heels all day by wearing flats during commute times; and
  • Take time every day to stretch your calf muscles and feet. 

Check out this slideshow on the worst shoes for your feet.