No matter how great one’s love for fashionable footwear, uncomfortable shoes do serious damage to the body. “Who exactly is making you wear the heels?” asks Katy Bowman, a Ventura, Calif., biomechanical scientist and author of Every Woman’s Guide to Foot Pain Relief. “If you’ve got ‘wearing high heels’ listed on your job contract, please send it to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. That requirement shouldn’t be there,” she writes in her book. As if damage to the foot, knee, and spine weren’t bad enough, research by David Agus, professor of medicine and engineering at the University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine, shows that inflammation caused by wearing uncomfortable, ill-fitting shoes every day for decades may even distract the body from general DNA repair and cancer prevention.
“Barefoot would be best, if we weren’t living in urban jungles,” says Bowman, 36, who often sports Tieks brand foldable flats. Unfortunately, many women don’t know how to look professional and be healthy at same time. Even athletic shoes and comfort shoes aren’t good for the body if they are heeled or stiff, so there’s now an opportunity for companies to compete in the healthy footwear category, she adds.
Thankfully, there are greater options for working women than puffy tennis sneakers. Bowman recommends four shoe brands and one heel insert. Rather than point to specific styles, Bowman says all wearers need to see what best fits their feet—but as a general rule: “The less to a shoe, the better.”
“Soft, all-leather flats from Tieks come in many shades of neutral to match your wardrobe.”
“Söfft also has some work-appropriate styles and a reputation for comfort.”
“Aerosoles add a lot of comfort features to their shoes and have a nice collection of career styles.”
“A nice brand of inserts to comfort-up a pair of heels is Insolia. They give you a nice heel cup to sink your feet into, even while wearing heels.”
Five footwear tips from Katy Bowman:
1. Avoid a pointy, super-narrow toe-box. The less space for toes, the greater chances of developing bunions and neuromas—and the more pressure is placed on toes when you’re upright.
2. Opened-back, slide-on footwear requires toe gripping that can lead to hammer toes and foot tension. Find a style with straps that keep the shoe attached to your body so your toes do not have to work.
3. If your ankles wobble with each step, you need either more hip strength or a better-shaped heel. In any event, wobbling around while walking tends to conjure up images of playing dress-up in mom’s closet.
4. Dropping an inch off your most frequented heel height is a great way to improve the state of the feet, knees, and back. It depends on your height, but a heel that’s less than two inches high is good. The ideal height is no heel. Placing your feet at any angle does some damage.
5. Invest in a pair of Italian, handmade flats. Find a pair of beautiful boots, embellished ballet flats, or a simple, yet classic, nude staple.