Stand tall, ladies: harm from high heels can be minimized

Published: 2011-08-24 10:34:41
Author: Professor Hylton B Menz


Women are often told how the very high-heeled shoes they wear are doing them harm.

But instead of trying to make them feel guilty about their footwear, we would be better off discussing how to help women minimize the negative effects of high heels on foot health.

Same old, same old

As a researcher with a clinical background in podiatry, I’m often asked by journalists to provide comment on the “dangers” of high-heeled shoes.

Most of the time, I refer these requests to colleagues or to my professional association.

My reason for doing so is not because I disagree with the premise that wearing high heels is detrimental.

Rather, I tend to avoid these invitations because the articles that result from such exchanges are invariably sensationalist, and from a public health perspective, largely ineffective.

If the goal is to effect behavioural change in women in the interests of their foot health, articles about the dangers of high-heeled shoes inevitably fail.

These articles usually follow a fairly predictable script:

  • women are “warned” of the “dangers” or “risks” of wearing high heels by a well-intentioned health professional ;

  • the piece is accompanied by a celebrity reference – Victoria Beckham’s bunions being a popular choice;

  • a stock image of some extreme footwear (often red patent leather stilettos, the higher the better); and

  • a vox pop of an office worker who loves her Jimmy Choo’s and doesn’t want to stop wearing them even though they make her feet hurt.

Reference to an escalating “epidemic” of ankle injuries resulting from high heels is occasionally added for extra impact, although I’m yet to find a convincing peer-reviewed study to support such a claim.