Heels: Height and health

Has your heel-habit changed?

In my large city, I rarely see a woman past 50 in the highest heels, at least by day. Most wear the moderate pump, kitten heels or flats. Women in their 20s and 30s, though, lope  along in four inches or higher.

Much as I admire their pretty pairs, I simply can't walk in heels without pain, and now I've learned why.

A kinesiology masters student, Danielle Barkema, had 15 women walk in flats, 2-inch and 3.5-inch heels. Using sensors, cameras and other equipment, she measured the forces acting on their knee joints and the shock wave traveling up their bodies from the heel strike.

As heels got higher, compression grew on the inside of the knee. Heels two inches and higher also changed joint positions at the ankle, hip and trunk.

"I tell my friends to wear high heels in moderation", Barkema said, "and if possible, to wear lower heels."

Heights of pleasure

How can bad girls go good? A few ways to mitigate the damage, below.

A wedge gives more stability than a thin heel. Nike Air Delfina Open-Toe Wedge with internal cushioning, cork platform, leather upper. Price, $198 from Zappos.

Palomino wedge

More heft to the heel creates less shock on the joint. The Charles Jourdan "Fae"  is still high, but the chunky heel is far gentler than a stiletto. Price, $225 from Zappos.
Camel architectural heel

Look for a padded footbed. You can buy inserts, but they can make the fit too tight. Kors calls his "MK-Flex"; his python pumps with 3-inch heel pack that secret soother. Price, $110 from Zappos.
Glazed python pump

Switch to flats, at least some days. Many women say they never thought they'd wear them, but then realized after trying a pair that their headache was gone. Aquatalia's studded patent "Ogle" flats prove flat isn't frumpy. You might have to re-hem your pants, but you'll be able to skip across town. Price, $225 from Zappos; also in red.

Studded flats

My heels stay in the box till I put on a cocktail dress. What about you?


Susan B said…
2.5" is the max I'll go on most days, and I do alternate with flats or a very low heel (which I find more comfortable than a true flat). My 3" Fluevogs are the exception, but they are so well balanced I can tolerate the height. For some reason I find wedges very hard to walk in, feel like I'm clomping. That Charles Jourdan shoe is gorgeous, but still too high for me.
dana said…
Heels all (almost all) were given to my babysitters after I had the boys. Why on earth should I ever wear anything that hurts or makes me unable to move freely and take care of my children? Why should anyone feel as if they have to?
Belle de Ville said…
I will wear heels if there is nice sized platform to balance the height of the heel and if my day won't include much walking.
Usually I opt for flats for day but this year I plan to be investing in some kitten heels. I find that pumps in the kitten design look feminine and dressy, even if the heel is not very high.
Jill Ann said…
Since I don't work in an office any more, I seldom wear heels. I do usually wear them when going out to dinner, etc. What I can't fathom is how women wear towering heels to the mall! My daughter & I were at the Houston Galleria recently, walking behind a young woman wearing those "hooker shoes", with a platform and probably 4 inch heels. She was zipping right along, and I can't imagine how her feet weren't in agony. Can't concentrate on your shopping if your feet hurt!

Having said that, I think I need to come up with an outfit to wear with the 3" heel plum suede slingbacks I bought right before I quit working. SUCH gorgeous shoes but I've barely worn them!
Anonymous said…
I'm tall, so I've never been interested in wearing 4" heels but I used to love wearing medium heels and wedges. Unfortunately, over the past few years, I developed several painful foot and ankle conditions. Now I must wear flats exclusively, and walking shoes with custom orthotics for my work as a nurse. I've given away most of my old shoes, but finding attractive, comfortable shoes to replace them has been complicated by my high arch, high instep, wide forefoot and narrow heel. Happily, my lifestyle is casual, and living in California I can wear sandals nine months of the year.
materfamilias said…
Motivation for heels is different under 5'4" than above it, I suspect. I'm like Pseu, generally staying under a 2.5" heel, making an exception for my 3" Fluevogs. I don't trust a platform as I like to feel the ground under my metatarsals!
laurieann said…
Interesting you should bring this up. I've begun the hunt for a perfect pair of grey pumps; so far everything I've found has been well over my 3" limit. Even Talbot's, that former bastion of the modest heel, which has a lovely pair in grey and blush suede, has the heel height well beyond what I can now comfortably wear. However, I did find a very minimalist pair of Stuart Weitzman black 1 1/4 inch wedge boot; the style name is "Modest" and it is that. I grabbed them for days when my feet don't want to wear my 2 1/2 inch boots from J. Crew (last year's fab. boot purchase.)

(Oh, I picked up a pair of Thierry Rabotin shoes and Arche sandals for the upcoming trip. )
Rubi said…
I wear flats nearly all the time, except when I'm wearing platforms, when I like to go up to 3" -- I like the option of feeling tall!

I have a few pairs of boots that don't fit either category, but have nice solid heels in the 2" vicinity. My "Mrs. Peel" boots only get worn when I'm going to be doing more riding and sitting than walking and standing.

I'll probably add a pair of black kitten heel pumps to the mix for fall, but nothing wilder than that.
My heels max out at about 2.5", and they are mostly wedges at that height. Like you, i enjoy "skipping across town".
Duchesse said…
une femme: The one pair of heels I own (Thierry Rabotin, black suede) are 2.5 inchs.

dana: Exactly what happened to me, but I missed the thrill of heels for a year.

Belle: I think having good legs encourages wearing of heels, mine are long but not shapely.

Jill: Those heels sound special. maybe a navy pantsuit?

wendelah1: I am 5'10 and in my heel wearing days never minded reaching 6'2" in stilettos. In fact I liked it. You are lucky to have such a long sandal season.

materfamilias: The metatarsal is where the heels just kill! I was once of those tall women who did not mind being taller.

Rubi: a 2" heel on a boot is a great option for adding drama without the joint problems described, but I still feel 2" heels in my back.

Patti: I realized after I wrote this I had not had my one pair of heels (2.5 inches) out of their shoe bag for 2 years. Oops!
frugalscholar said…
Sadly (?), I have never been able to wear heels at all and had to donate my one pair of heeled boots--an expensive lesson.
Anonymous said…
Today's 5"+ heels make no sense to me, and look like a joke on someone my height, (5'2") but I dearly love to steal a couple of inches any way I can. For dressing up, I like half-inch platforms that make 3" heels into 2.5" ones, and happily wear 2" wedge sandals all summer long (they cushion my feet from hard, hot pavements, too.) In winter, chunky-heeled boots are comfortable. I hardly ever wear flat-flats. Those extra 2 or 3 inches make all the difference between feeling "short" or "well-proportioned" for me.

I do not wear tall heels only those cute little kittens...
as a height challenged gal I should be wearing higher shoes but cannot walk properly so I adore flats!

I see many young gals wearing spiked heels and they look like they are going to topple over in a strong breeze!
Duchesse said…
Anonymous C.: Seems there are two things going on; the desire (or not) to add height and the effect of wearing heels. Odd that no one seems to be focused on the research. Heels cause problems, period. But how those who love them are loathe to give them up :)

hostess: Women can be any height, I don't see any sense in wrecking our knees and backs to be taller. I too have seen some women hobbling, heels covered in band-aids, on 4 inch heels.
Duchesse said…
Frugal: Lesson learned, though! No one has to wear heels, as Carla Bruni reminds us.
Susan B said…
Duchesse - I didn't comment on the research because it didn't surprise me. We've been warned for decades that heels are bad for our feet, joints and bodies (and my feet make it clear in no undertain terms!).
Tiffany said…
I do love the look of heels - and enjoy the extra height - but I wear them only when I know I won't be walking and standing all day. And I always choose a more substantial heel, rarely over 3 inches high. Having said that, I'm now on the hunt for some pretty kitten heels (even if re-hemming of pants will ensue).
Susan said…
I am 5'8" tall and would adore being even taller in heels. In my view, the taller the better. I never mastered the art of walking in really high heels. When I was young, I had babies to carry on my hip and not many opportunities to go out with my husband to events where high heels would be just the thing. Now, I enjoy my Stuart Weitzman heels, the tallest of which are probably about 2.5 inches at the very most.

I have enjoyed wearing boots with chunky heels.
Shelley said…
Personally, I've observed more 'limping' than 'loping'. High heels are for those willing to shell out for taxi, not for me. If I'm walking anywhere from other than the car, sensible shoes win any time at all. Cocktail dresses? Don't do much of that, sadly. Then again, my feet - and my back - are very healthy and I look forward to retaining my mobility into my old age.
Susan Tiner said…
I think of high heels as a form of lingerie :-).
Mardel said…
The research does not surprise me at all, my spouse always said basically the same thing, even as he acknowledged that my back hurts less in heels because it alters the angle of my stance, forcing me to bend my knees and tuck more. But then due to my scoliosis and a rod in my back, I lean forward when my feet are flat on the floor. Heels are terrible on my knees and feet though, so life is a balance and I change shoes often, even during a single day.

I still wear heels, rarely over 3" unless there is a platform, and never all day or when I have to walk or be on my feet for long long periods (except for about 2" on a museum day, with a change for walking). Since my life is much more casual now I am mostly in flats or low wedges or platforms. When I do wear heels, I admit it is all about vanity; my legs have always been among my best features and I don't mind being taller even though I am 5'9".
Duchesse said…
Mardel: I am chuckling as I keep hearing explanations such as, "I wear heels except when I have to walk..."

We might consider that we are voluntarily rendering ourselves unable to walk much, and ask ourselves why we are so willing to sacrifice access to mobility.
Duchesse said…
Susa Tiner: I think I know what you mean :; but no woman ever got intense joint pain from a lacy bra!
Mardel said…
You know the thing that is so funny about all of this is that I started reading this post this morning, as a break from tackling my shoe closet, where I am banishing most of my heels, including a few that are very low. I have to be able to stand for hours and move around normally without pain. And the without pain is the important thing here, and that includes standing for hours at a cocktail party or dancing as well as everyday running around.
Duchesse said…
Mardel: I want those heels that you can stand in for hours. I see so many women with their heels kicked off as soon as they can hide their feet under a table, or they dangle them from their toes, giving the squished feet a little breather. Conditioned during the '60s, I enjoy the look of a graceful high heel but view them as destructive to the health of feet and joints.
Susan Tiner said…
I was picturing myself lying luxuriously in bed, with one high-heeled foot extended up, then the other. Very lazy like. Perhaps with company. There's no foot pain involved :-).
Duchesse said…
Susan Tiner: And imagine, no concerns abut height :)

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