Party season is here and it’s time to treat yourself to a new pair of heels.
But buying new shoes can be tricky — often they hurt, flare up pre-existing foot problems and have the potential to ruin a night out. So we’ve asked consultant foot and ankle surgeon, Ms Roslyn Miller for her advice on picking the perfect party heels.
Preparing for heels season
One of the most important things you can do is to remember to stretch your calves and the soles of your feet regularly, particularly the morning after you have worn high heels. This is to allow these structures to stretch out to the correct length.
The best time to do this is right before you get out of bed in the morning. If you think about it, when you take your first step in the morning, that is when you put your foot to maximum stretch and this can cause micro tears.
It’s also better to not walk around the house barefoot, but instead in slippers, with a well cushioned, small, broad heel.
Consider the shape of the shoe
If you suffer from foot problems – choosing the right shape of shoe can make a big difference.
A rounder toe with a wider fit will help if you have conditions like big toe arthritis (Hallux Rigidus), ball of foot pain (Metatarsalgia), toe problems (Hammer toes, Claw Toes), nerve pain (Morton’s Neuromas) or swelling of the capsule of the foot (Bursitis).
Softer material, with room to move will make your evening more comfortable. Think about where the edge of the material will sit. It’s better to have nothing covering the joint, or for the joint to be completely covered, rather than having a ridge or seam over the joint.
If you have bunions and wear a pointed shoe — this can make the pain worse. Make sure there’s room to manoeuvre.
What type of heel is best for your feet?
The higher and more narrow the heel, the more your body weight is forced forward onto the ball of your foot.
This can exacerbate any existing foot issues, particularly ball of foot pain or Morton’s Neuroma (this is where a nerve in your foot is irritated or damaged). It can also be uncomfortable if you struggle with heels anyway or rarely wear them.
High and narrow heels also mean more force is put through a small area in the heel of your foot. This can exacerbate plantar fasciitis — inflammation of a thick band of tissue that runs across the bottom of your foot and connects your heel bone to your toes. Closely related is tight Achilles, which can be very painful if you develop an Achilles tendinopathy (Painful Achilles). If you always wear high heels, this can cause the Achilles tendon to become tight.
If you suffer from either foot or ankle problems, chose a heel which spreads the weight more evenly — such as a wedge, platform or lower-heeled shoe.
A broad heel helps you to take the weight back onto the back of your foot and let the tendons and ligaments around the ankle work more effectively.
If you have weak or torn ligaments outside of the ankle, you may be more likely to roll your ankles or have wobbly ankles when you walk. This can cause pain, or repeatedly going over on the ankle. Long term this can cause you to develop wear and tear of the ankle joint and in some cases ankle arthritis.
Boots are great for ankle niggles, as long as they come up above the ankle and fit properly. If they’re too loose or low, they won’t support the ankle. If you’re wearing dressy shoes, a reasonably thick ankle strap is your best bet — so that it can essentially mimic the ligament of the ankle.
Add extra padding
Whether you have problems with your feet or are just planning on a long night out — adding some extra cushioning to your shoe is a smart move.
If you do suffer from big toe arthritis or toe problems, consider a shoe with a properly cushioned sole. Something thin and made of leather could be painful as there’s little to protect your foot from the hard, bumpy ground.
Otherwise, cushioned insoles are a good backup. Some are designed specifically to help with plantar fasciitis and heel pain. You can also buy orthotics that claim to help with shoulder, lower back, hip and knee pain as well as foot pain.
There are also lighter versions that can just take the edge off if you’ve not worn heels in a while — some can even help keep foot odour at bay.
If you know that the shoes that you have bought have a specific problem area, the back of the heels rub or they make your toes sore, you can buy packs of small stick-in gel pads and cushions. Pop them in your handbag for later.
Measuring for the perfect heel height
If you want to get an idea of the heel height suitable for your feet, this quick exercise can give you a starting point.
- Remove your shoes, sit on the floor and stretch one leg out, straight in front of you. Make sure your foot is relaxed.
- If you find that your foot is at a right angle to your leg and does not dangle, then you may have issues with mobility in the talus (the bone that makes up the lower part of the ankle joint). You may be better off opting for some beautiful flat shoes, rather than high heels.
If the top of your foot falls forwards so that it’s more in line with your outstretched leg — heels may be easier for you to handle.
- To get an idea of the right heel height for you, ask a friend to stretch a tape measure from where the heel would sit on your foot, parallel to the floor. Then, place a pencil at the ball of your foot, at a right angle to the tape.
- Measure where the pencil hits the tape to get your ideal heel height.
And if all else fails
Invest in some nice roll up-ballet pumps. If by the end of the night your feet are more frazzled than footloose, you’ll be glad of the break.
Ultimately, finding the right shoe is about finding a style that’s comfortable for you. Take these tips into consideration before parting with your cash and you’ll be partying from dusk till dawn.
- If you are concerned about your foot and ankle health, you should consult your GP. (Don’t have a GP?)
- If you would prefer to see a consultant then King Edward VII’s Hospital has a fantastic team of foot and ankle specialists.
- Image source — all images featured are for illustrative purposes only.