The Dangers of Wearing High Heels (for Athletes)

Wear high heels if: You want to look taller or more attractive.

You don’t wear them because they are uncomfortable or cause other problems.

The following information was compiled from various sources, which were researched and collected by me over the past few years. I have tried my best to make it as accurate as possible.

If there is anything wrong with any of this information, please let me know so that I may correct it. Thank you!


What are the dangers of wearing high heels?

High heels can cause many health issues. They can:

Cause foot pain and swelling. This condition is called “high heel foot.” It’s caused when your body gets too much pressure on your toes, causing them to swell up.

This causes a painful condition known as “toe drop” or “toenail fungus.” Your doctor will usually prescribe medication to relieve this problem.

Causes of toe drop include wearing shoes with thick soles, such as flip flops. These shoes often do not provide enough support for your big toes.

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Hip injuries due to excessive weight placed on the front part of the hips. When you put extra weight on your front leg, it puts additional stress on the back side of your hip joint and can lead to injury.

This is, perhaps, the most common problem caused by wearing high heels.

Back pain caused by leaning forward to counteract balance. This can lead to long-term back problems.

Skin disease such as blisters and fungal infections. Skin that is in contact with the inside of the shoe is compressed, which causes blood flow to become sluggish and prevents oxygen from reaching the skin.

This increases your chances of getting a skin disease.

Higher chance of falling due to loss of balance.

Reduced proprioception, which is your body’s ability to know where limbs are without looking. This effect can be potentially dangerous when performing physical activities, such as running.

Inability to run away from predators, which could put you in danger.

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Reduced grasping ability.

Slower reaction time.


Why do women wear high heels?

High heels are a fashion statement. They make your legs look better and provide aesthetics appeal. They have also been historically regarded as a symbol of power, reserved for royalty and high-ranking government officials.


What is the history of high heels?

The original purpose of high heels was to help riders stay aboard horses. The heel inserted behind the ankle provided extra support to prevent the foot from slipping through the stirrup.

The first mention of the heel appeared in writing around 8000 B.C.E.

in a text by Xenophon, where the Persian cavalry had very small heels to help them stay in their saddles.

The earliest identified pair of shoes, preserved in an Etruscan tomb, have heel heights between 1/2″ and 1 1/2″. The ancient Egyptians had heels, which were made of wood.

In ancient Assyria, heels were made of wood or bone, and they were worn by priests and rulers.

During the Renaissance, Italian women wore heels with pointed tips that were stuffed with grass to keep them upright.

The Dangers of Wearing High Heels (for Athletes) - Picture


When did high heels become popular?

High heels became popular in the 1500’s, where they were worn by men and women of all social classes.

In the 16th and 17th centuries, heels became lower and broader, similar to the Cuban heels used today. During this time, heels were often used for practical purposes, like padding for rough roads.

They also kept wearers from slipping on icy or dirty surfaces.

In the 18th century, heels got higher and retronymically became known as “gallows heels” due to their popularity with prostitutes, who needed the extra height to reach customer’s faces. They also began to be used for fashion purposes.

During the Victorian era, heels again became lower. Low heels were used primarily by men and women of middle class or higher due to their practical nature.

In the 1920’s, chemists created a new manufacturing process that led to a surge in production of hard, synthetic heels. This led to the start of the “flapper heel” era, where heels became higher and broader than ever.

In the 1930’s, stiletto heels (very narrow and long) were originated by shoe designer Louis Franzite. They were popularized by actress Marlene Dietrich.

During this time, heels were primarily used for fashion purposes.

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During World War II, the United States government issued a law that restricted women from wearing clothing or shoes with heels. They were seen as a representation of wealth and glamour, which was regarded to be counter-culture to the war effort.

In the 1950’s and 1960’s, heels became lower and flatter. This was due to post-war economics and the rise of feminism.

Heels were seen as an objectification of women, so they were worn less frequently during this time.

In the 1960’s and 1970’s, heels became higher and broader again. This era was marked by a sexual revolution and hippie culture.

In general, the main purpose for high heels is still for fashion, not function.


Do women prefer men to wear high heels?

In general, no. In 2011, a group of researchers surveyed 5,000 women on their preferences for men’s shoe wear. Their responses are as follows:

What is your preference for men’s shoe wear?

Casual sandals – 46%

Trainers/Sports shoes – 18%

Boat Shoes – 7%

Flat Brogues – 7%

Oxffosh – 6%

Loafers – 4%

None of the above – 17%

The Dangers of Wearing High Heels (for Athletes) - GymFitWorkout

None of the above includes “His feet”, “All of the above”, and “As long as he’s not barefoot, I don’t care”.


Is it true that wearing high heels changes the structure of your feet?

Yes, in some cases. In a way, they are supposed to do that. During the course of wearing high heels, there may be permanent effects on your foot’s shape. However, it is possible to wear them in a way that doesn’t damage your feet.

The most common effect of high heels is on your toes. The toes are scrunch together and may start to curl under the foot.

This is known as a “claw toe”.

Other common effects of wearing high heels are:

The metatarsals (foot bones connected to the toes) get pushed together, which may cause bunions or calluses.

The fat pads on the underside of your foot get worn down, causing excessive rubbing on the bones in your feet.

Tendons and ligaments in the foot may become strained.

The Dangers of Wearing High Heels (for Athletes) - GymFitWorkout

There is some evidence that high heels shortens one’s Achilles tendon and calf muscles. This can cause lower back pain due to the altered biomechanics of your body.

The muscles on the top of your feet get stretched, causing a permanent indent across the top of your foot (this is typically known as “high arches”).

Your feet begin to over-pronate (the foot rolls inward excessively), causing knee and hip pain.

Heels do have physical benefits as well, such as:

Making the hip angle smaller (imagine how a chair’s legs are the same angle). This makes one’s hips more feminine.

Shorter legs visually appear longer.

Puts daintier foot forward during walking or running, which affects overall body movement.

Increases body confidence, which causes one to hold one’s head up higher and take strides longer. This can make one seem more attractive.

The Dangers of Wearing High Heels (for Athletes) - GymFitWorkout

Overall, high heels are not very healthy for one’s feet. However, if you’re going to wear them, you should be aware of how to minimize the damage.

Always use appropriate shoe inserts (such as arch supports).

Make sure that your shoes fit properly (most high heel retailers will help you with this).

Never wear heels for more than a few hours at a time.

Wear heels only on special occasions.

If you insist on wearing them regularly, limit it to no more than one or two hours daily. Take multiple breaks during the day.

Try to alternate which feet you put them on (if you wear them daily).

If you experience any new pains or discomfort in your feet, take a break from wearing heels for a few weeks.

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Are there any alternatives to high heels?

Yes. There are a few ways to look taller without wearing high heels:

Heel inserts – These are shoe inserts with a slight heel (such as the ones pictured to the right). They are not as high as a full-blown high heel, but they do increase one’s height.

Heel inserts are useful for women who want to look taller, but don’t want to wear something too difficult to walk in.

Pumps – Pumps are similar to heels, except the back is “clipped” (as pictured to the right). This style makes one’s foot appear to be at a more natural angle.

Often times, these shoes are easier to walk in than high heels.

Stilettos – These are the most similar to a high heel. They can come in multiple heights (such as the one pictured to the right).

Stilettos are great for people who want to look taller and have good balance. They’re also narrow enough to make one’s feet look daintier.

Wedges – Wedges are a mixture between a heel and a flat. They’re typically solid on top with a thin sole underneath.

They can range from being slightly elevated, to being as high as some heels (the one pictured to the right is relatively short). These can be comfortable and cute alternatives to regular heels.

Flats – Flats are self-explanatory. These include ballet flats, solid flats, and other similar styles.

Sources & references used in this article:

Acute effects of different warm-up protocols with and without a weighted vest on jumping performance in athletic women by AG Thompsen, TED Kackley… – Journal of strength …, 2007 –

Neuromuscular training improves performance on the star excursion balance test in young female athletes by A Filipa, R Byrnes, MV Paterno, GD Myer… – Journal of orthopaedic & …, 2010 –

Athletic footwear, leg stiffness, and running kinematics by M Bishop, P Fiolkowski, B Conrad, D Brunt… – Journal of athletic …, 2006 –

Shock absorbing assembly for an athletic shoe by KF Welter – US Patent 4,709,489, 1987 – Google Patents

The female athlete by DL Wiggins, ME Wiggins – Clinics in sports medicine, 1997 – Elsevier

The effect of ankle stabilizers on athletic performance: a randomized prospective study by D Pienkowski, M McMorrow, R Shapiro… – … American journal of …, 1995 –

Rehabilitation of ankle and foot injuries in athletes by L Chinn, J Hertel – Clinics in sports medicine, 2010 –

Overuse injuries in the young athlete by DB O’Neill, LJ Micheli – Clinics in sports medicine, 1988 – Elsevier

Athletic shoe with rearfoot strike zone by RM Lyden, GA Valiant, RJ Lucas, MT Donaghu… – US Patent …, 1997 – Google Patents