High heels are a perennial source of love-hate angst, of the constant inner turmoil between choosing beauty versus comfort. Stepping into sky-high stilettos is an enduring struggle (with the rare exceptions of a few) that never seems to have an alternate ending other than hobbling home with aching arches, numb toes, maybe a blister or two, and sore ankles. But it's OK, because fashion is pain, right?
Not with that defeatist attitude. In our search for the answer on how to achieve comfort without giving up our lift, we tapped the brain of Dr. Emily Splichal, podiatrist and human movement specialist, and posed the question: What is the heel height we should be shopping for?
"You shouldn't walk in heels higher than three inches," she says. "Anything over the three-inch mark changes the biomechanics of how you walk—your strides are shortened, you can't walk as fast, your body weight shifts to the ball of the foot, which throws off your center of gravity and stresses the knees and lower back."
And no, contrary to popular belief, a platform won't help matters—the effect is just as damaging, Splichal says. Also harmful is a too-flat shoe, she cautions, especially if someone's foot is naturally flat (little to no arch versus a high arch): "A little heel, like a one-inch heel, puts the foot into a more stable position."
The takeaway here is to shop for shoes with heels that range between one inch and three in height. "Avoid heels that are both too flat or too high," she advises. "Avoid the extremes." And after reading about this study that explored the effect heels have on balance and muscle strength, we'd be remiss if we didn't point out that running in heels should be avoided at all costs as well.