Heel bump from wearing pumps
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High Heels

Whether they're sky-high or not, this style can give you a painful knot on the back of the heel. The rigid material presses on a bony area some women have called a "pump bump,” which is permanent. The pressure leads to blisters, swelling, bursitis, and pain in the Achilles tendon. Ice, orthotics, and heel pads may provide pain relief -- along with better shoes.

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Composite showing foot pain
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Problem: Unnatural Foot Position

Ultra-high heels force the feet into a position that puts stress on the ball of the foot. At this joint, the long metatarsal bones meet the pea-shaped sesamoid bones and the toe bones (phalanges). Too much pressure can inflame these bones or the nerves that surround them. Chronic stress to the foot bones can even lead to hairline fractures.

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High heels causing twisted ankle
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Problem: Ankle Sprains

All high heels boost the risk of an ankle sprain. The most common, a lateral sprain, happens when you roll onto the outside of the foot. This stretches the ankle ligaments beyond their normal length. A severe sprain may tear those ligaments.

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Lower heels are more comfortable
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Solution: Go Shorter

Switching to lower heels will help you avoid problems with the metatarsal bones. The lower you go, the more natural your foot position will be. Choose heels that are no more than 2 inches high.

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photo of woman walking up steps
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Heels That Work Better

Many women are unwilling to trade style for comfort, but you may not have to choose between the two. Performance pumps are a compromise, balancing fashion and foot health. Most have reinforced heels, athletic shoe construction, and more wiggle room for your toes.

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photo of red heels
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Stilettos

Although all high heels can cause problems, the ultra-narrow heels of stilettos are particularly risky because the weight is pinpointed on one small area. That can make you wobble like you're walking on stilts. You’ll be more likely to trip and sprain your ankle.

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photo of woman playing drums
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Solution: Chunkier Heels

These shoes handle your weight more evenly. This makes the feet much more stable when compared to stilettos or spindle heels. Although thick high heels can still put stress on the ball of the foot, you’ll probably be steadier in them and less likely to fall.

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photo of woman wearing flats
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Ballet Flats

You won’t get any arch support from these shoes. That can lead to knee, hip, and back problems. Poor arch support can also cause a painful foot condition called plantar fasciitis.

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photo of orthotic inserts
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Solution: Orthotic Inserts

If you love the look of ballet flats, over-the-counter inserts may help prevent mild foot pain. Heel pads can provide extra cushioning for achy heels. And custom orthotics can ease a whole range of foot pains and problems. Podiatrists prescribe these inserts to provide arch support and reduce pressure on sensitive areas. Prescription orthotics can be pricey, but insurance sometimes covers them.

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photo of flip flops
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Flip-Flops

Your feet will get very little protection, so cuts, splinters, and other foot injuries are a risk. Plus, many flip-flops provide no arch support. Like ballet flats, they can worsen plantar fasciitis and cause problems with the knees, hips, or back.

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Composite showing plantar fasciitis
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Problem: Plantar Fasciitis

A band of tissue called the plantar fascia runs along the bottom of the foot. It pulls on the heel when you walk -- and it works best with the proper arch in your foot. Walking in flimsy shoes without good arch support can overstretch, tear, or inflame the plantar fascia. This common condition can cause intense heel pain, and resting the feet only provides temporary relief.

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Comfortable sandals
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Better: 'Fitted' Flops

The thick sole keeps your foot off the ground and away from things that could cause cuts. And this type of shoe can have really good arch support. Some have a seal of approval from the American Podiatric Medical Association.

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photo of wedges
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Platform Shoes and Wedges

This style tends to have rigid foot beds, which can hamper how your foot naturally moves when you walk. If the heel of the platform is much higher than the toe area, the shoe also puts pressure on the metatarsal bones.

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photo of platform shoes
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Better: Flatter Platforms

Although still not recommended, a flatter platform shoe may put less strain on your feet. Look for a wide wedge or platform that is nearly parallel with the ground. This will ease some of the pressure on the ball of your foot. But the rigid sole can still hamper your natural walking motion.

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photo of heels with pointy toes
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Pointy Toes

Talk about uncomfortable! They squeeze the entire front of your foot together. Over time, this can cause nerve pain, bunions, blisters, and hammertoes. Some women even get bruises under their toenails from the constant pressure. Your foot just isn’t shaped this way.

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Bunion composite
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Problem: Bunions

A bunion is a painful lump at the base of the big toe, which may cause the toe to bend unnaturally. It forms when the tissue or bone at the base joint gets displaced. This may happen after years of pressure and movement. Pointy-toed shoes are one reason why bunions can happen.

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photo of hammertoe
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Problem: Hammertoe

High-heeled shoes push too much body weight toward the toes and then squeeze them together. Over time, the result can be hammertoe (early stage, lower right), abnormal bends in the toe joints that can gradually become rigid. You might need surgery to fix severe hammertoe. Crowding can cause other toe problems and lead to painful corns and calluses.

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Pointy toe shoe and rounded toe shoe
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Solution: Wider Toe Box

Skip the pointy-toed shoes and opt for something more forgiving for your feet. If that style doesn't appeal to you, look for shoes that slope to a point beyond the edge of your toes. A healthy style won't pinch the tips or sides of the toes. You can also choose a softer material, rather than stiff leather.

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photo of wider toe box
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The Same Goes for Men

Just like women, you’ll want to avoid shoes that are uncomfortably pointy. That will help prevent hammertoes, bunions, and pain. To avoid these problems, stick with a boxier toe.

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Woman wearing wrong sized shoes
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Wrong Size

Nine out of 10 women are wearing shoes that are too small. The consequences aren't pretty -- calluses, blisters, bunions, corns, and other problems. The constant rubbing can irritate the joints in the foot and lead to arthritis.

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photo of minimalist shoes
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Minimalist Shoes

These aim to mimic the natural feel and mechanics of walking barefoot. There’s no support or shock absorption built in. And in some brands, the shoes separate the toes, hampering your feet’s natural walking position.

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photo of shoe size measure tool
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Get Measured

Before buying new shoes, have a professional measure the length and width of your feet at the end of the day, while you're standing. For unusually flat feet or high arches, you may want to see a podiatrist. These conditions can make you more likely to get osteoarthritis. Early treatment and wearing the right kinds of shoes will go a long way to help your feet stay well.

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photo of woman shoe shopping
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Tips for Better Shoes

For foot health:

  • Make sure the shoe bends at the toe box but is not too flexible.
  • Make sure there is enough arch support.
  • When choosing heels, look for chunky ones that are less than 2 inches high.
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Sources | Medically Reviewed on 08/29/2019 Reviewed by Hansa D. Bhargava, MD on August 29, 2019

IMAGES PROVIDED BY:

  1. Steve Pomberg/WebMD, Peggy Firth and Susan Gilbert for WebMD
  2. Steve Pomberg/WebMD, Peggy Firth and Susan Gilbert for WebMD
  3. Steve Pomberg/WebMD, Peggy Firth and Susan Gilbert for WebMD
  4. Steve Pomberg/WebMD, Peggy Firth and Susan Gilbert for WebMD
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SOURCES:

Hillary Brenner, DPM, spokeswoman, American Podiatric Medical Association.

American Podiatric Medical Association: "Heel Pain," "General Foot Health," "Foot and Ankle Injuries," "Orthotics," "Important Do's and Don'ts to Avoid a Summer 'Flip-Flop Fiasco,'" "Secrets to Avoiding a Sandal Scandal," "Bunions," "Hammertoes," "Footwear," "Boot Buying 101 - APMA Offers Winter Shoe Buying Tips."

American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: "Sprained Ankle," "Tight Shoes and Foot Problems," "Don't Rely on Stated Shoe Size."

Johns Hopkins Medicine: "Arthritis Special Report: Easing Foot, Ankle, and Knee Pain with Orthotics."

Washington State Podiatric Medical Association: "Podiatrists Keep America Walking."

Arthritis.org: "Flat Feet and Knee Pain."

St. John Providence Health System: "Are Fee at Fault for Back, Hip, and Knee Woes?"

American Council on Exercise: "Will Toning Shoes Really Give You a Better Body?"

American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons: "In Women's Shoes, Pain Does Not Equal Gain," "Osteoarthritis of the Foot and Ankle."

Reviewed by Hansa D. Bhargava, MD on August 29, 2019

This tool does not provide medical advice. See additional information.

THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and should not be relied on to make decisions about your health. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the WebMD Site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.