How to prevent heels from hurting is important to everyone who loves to wear high heels.
As someone 5’2″ who is wearing heels 90% of the time, I’ve put together this guide to help fellow fashionistas making heels more comfortable.
Table of Contents
The Root of Heel Pain
In order to prevent heels from hurting, it is important to understand what is causing it so that you can stop the pain from its root.
The most common pain after wearing heels for a longer period of time occurs at the balls (sole) of foot.
That is because your body weight is mostly concentrated on the balls of your feet.
Why body weight causes heel pain?
When we put our foot in a heel, the weight distribution gets shifted forward.
While that changes our whole posture and can potentially make our hips look perkier, it can also make our feet hurt after a while.
The reason is instead of your foot is planted flat on the ground like we’re intended to walk, the weight gets shifted to the balls of your feet. In order to compensate for that, the knees and hips jut forward and the back hyperextends to counterbalance.
That explains why the pain and discomfort we feel from heels always starts from the balls of our feet. In order to stop your heel from hurting, it is critical to make sure your body weight is evenly distributed on your foot instead of too concentrated in the balls. That is why you need to understand the concept of incline (aka slope).
Heels with a Gradual Slope
In order to make high heels comfortable, you need shoes that are constructed with a gradual incline.
The more gradual the incline is, the better your weight is evenly distributed on your feet. That is the key to make your heels more comfortable.
What is Incline?
The incline is not a measurement listed by retailers or shoe designers, but it can be measured by the distance between the heel and the sole.
The shorter the distance, the more steep the heels are.
The longer the distance, the more gradual the incline, and the more comfortable the heels are.
This is a key structure of the shoe that can determine how comfortable they are, but very few people have heard of this concept.
There is normally only a slight difference (like 0.2 inches) in terms of the distance of the heel and the sole, if you are comparing two pairs of shoes. However, that tiny difference is key in determining the comfort level of the heels.
This explains why some shoes are 5 inches plus, but you can still comfortably stand in them and even walk in them. However, there are heels that are only 3 inches, but you will find it impossible to wear them longer than 10 minutes.
Retailers do not provide the incline measurements in their size chart, but you can have a visual assessment if the heel slope looks too sharp. You can also hold two pairs of heels together heel to heel and toe to toe. By comparing the distance between the toe and heel, you will be able to tell which pair has a more gradual incline and predict it is going to be more comfortable.
If you are shopping online, you can open two browsers at the same time and compare two pairs of heels side by side. That will give you an idea of if the incline is steep or gradual.
For your heels to be comfortable, you need to make sure your arch is properly supported.
We all know arch support is very important, but you may not have associated it with the shape of the shoe arch.
Have you noticed sometimes when you are trying on high heels, some of them hurt so bad immediately you have to take them off right away? That is probably a sign that the construction of the shoe arch is not a good match for your foot. When there is a mismatch, as you put the heels on, your balls of feet are starting to experience too much pressure on them, and you will experience discomfort right away.
Use Silicone Inserts
These inserts from Dr. Scholls were a lifesaver for my wedding to enable me to walk in high heels all day and dance in them all night.
Why should you opt for Silicone Inserts?
Silicone inserts will hold your foot more steady in the shoe, thus your feet aren’t sliding forward as much.
Therefore, your weight is more distributed on the heels rather than the balls of your feet, thus relieving the pain in the ball of your feet.
That is exactly why silicone inserts will be a huge relief- they provide so much support and cushion to the balls of your feet.
I have tried many different kinds, but these ones work the best. The main difference is this one has a thicker padding in the arch, which makes sure your arch get more support and your feet will feel more comfortable in the heels.
Since you cannot change the incline or the arch of the high heels you already own, using these inserts will prevent them from hurting and save you from having to throw away all the uncomfortable heels in your closet.
I normally purchase one pair of silicone inserts for every pair of my heels higher than 3 inches. Amazon is my go to place, and my favorite brand is Dr. Scholl’s Stylish Step High Heel Relief Insoles. If use them often, they do wear out and lose their stickiness, which is telling you it is time for a replacement.
The inserts are handy in all seasons, and you can use them with sandals or boots. Because they are transparent, there is no way to tell you have them in your heels.
Use Blisters Blocks
Another most common type of pain we get from wearing heels is terrible blisters. Not only you can get blisters from new shoes, but also you get them if you haven’t worn a pair of heels for a long time.
I used to just put on band aid, but sometimes they are too noticeable when you wear sandals. I recently discovered these blister blocks on Amazon.
Just rub them on the sensitive spots before you put the new heels on. That will make you less prone to painful blisters.
Re-examine your shoe size
Wearing the correct size shoe is the most basic foundation for you to feel more comfortable in your heels. Doesn’t this sound too obvious? You might be asking- who doesn’t know their size?
I’m sure you do know your size when you place the order, but did you know your shoe size can change?
There is a number of reasons why women’s shoe size might change over the lifetime.
What are the reasons your shoe size changes?
The number one reason is weight gain or weight loss. My cousin recently was telling me she felt like all her shoes are starting to slip after she lost 20 pounds. That is very typical. When you gain or lose weight, your feet change accordingly.
So, if you have recently gone through dramatic weight fluctuation, make sure you measure your shoe again professionally in a store and know your correct size.
The number two reason is childbirth. Some women need a different shoe size after they give birth to a baby. I haven’t found the most scientific explanation for that yet, but I know that happens to some women.
Number three, as you age, your feet might change. My mother falls into this category, and her shoe size has grown from 36 to 37 over the years.
You see, all this are good reasons for you to remeasure your feet and make sure you are wearing the right size.
Tape your Third and Forth Toes
This is a very interesting tip. If you tape your third and fourth toes (counting from the big toe) together with nude medical tape, that alleviates the pain in the ball of your feet.
Why you should tape your toes?
Because there’s actually a nerve there that contributes to foot pain.
Stress on the nerve is alleviated when supported by the other toe.
Now, what if you are wearing peep toe shoes or sandals when your toes are mostly showing? I know, this trick may not work in that scenario, unless you don’t mind people noticing the tape.
However, if you are wearing pumps, regular heels or high heel boots, you should have no problem to try this trick and see for yourself if it helps reduce the pain.
Wear Wedges or Platform Shoes
If you love heels, this is the easiest solution. Wedges or platform shoes are generally more comfortable than stilettos. Wedges provide more support for the arch of your foot, thus the weight is evenly distributed on your sole and reduce the pain on the balls of your feet. Platform is more comfortable by the same rationale- it provides cushioning to the balls of your feet and reduce the pressure there.
If you are petite (under 5’4″), you have to use precaution and make sure your shoes platform is not too thick. While wedges and platforms provide more comfort and support for your feet, they do, on the other hand, add bulkiness.
This is one of the most common mistakes made by shorter girls, i.e. the platform they wear are so thick that they visually make your legs look shorter.
I personally love wedges, because they are so much easier to walk in than stilettos. However, I have to admit they do run the risk of making your legs look shorter, if the wedge is too thick. If you need a pair of walkable wedges, go with those designed with thinner wedges (not necessarily lower) which will reduce some of that heaviness for your feet.
Wear Block Heels
This is another trick to wearing heels more comfortably.
Why you should wear Block Heels?
Block heels provide more support for your heel area and make it more comfortable for you.
So, if you are going to an event and you need to be standing or dancing in high heels for hours, these are your best bet.
Likewise, chunky heels are not flattering for petite feet. Because of the heavier heels, they add too much weight to your bottom half and make you look shorter.
So, between comfort and style, you should make a choice, ideally somewhere in between.
I have a whole blog post dedicated to this topic on the Best and Worst Shoes for Petite Women as well as Fashion Mistakes Every Petite Girls should Avoid.
Carry Foldable Flats with you
This one is wonderful hack for commuters who need to walk longer distance than those who primarily drive. My commute is 45 minutes from NJ to New York, which includes 25 minutes by train and 20 minutes of walking. Being 5’2″, I always would like to wear heels in the office/studio. However, I know it is not realistic for me to walk 20 minutes (and that’s just one way) in high heels!
Solution? I carry a pair of foldable flats in my bag. This is especially helpful in the summertime because I can carry really light weighted flats and easily switch them on once I get to work.
I noticed a lot of girls are doing the same in New York city. They walk in flats or sneakers to their bus stop or train station, and they put on the high heels they store in the office drawers once they get to the office.
There is plenty of choices when it comes to foldable flats, and they are fairly inexpensive. You should have at least two pairs, one in beige and one in black. The beige is for summer time when you are mostly wearing lighter color clothing and you can wear them bare footed. The black is necessary for the winter time, when you are likely to wear darker color pants and jeans. Black also works well when you wear stockings in the winter with your skirts or dresses. They blend with your stockings and are fairly unnoticeable.
These Taryn Rose Edina ballet flats have been my favorites. I loved them so much that I went back to Nordstrom and bought a pair of beige and a pair of black! Nordstrom is already sold out, but I found them on Amazaon.