If you’re a lover of heels, chances are you’ve probably squeezed your foot into too-tight pumps or endured achy arches from wearing sky-high stilettos at one point or another. But as it turns out, there’s a way to achieve comfort without giving up heels entirely. We turned to New York podiatrist Dr. Allyssa Knowles for answers.
“The key is knowing your foot type and opting for a heel that suits it,” Knowles told FN. “If you already have issues with your feet, the type of shoes you choose can significantly affect your overall comfort.”
Below, she shares exactly which heels to consider for a range of foot shapes and concerns.
Best for Bunions: Soft, Round Toe Heel
Bunions are bony protrusions that form when the bone or tissue at the joint at the big toe moves out of place. While genetics are mostly to blame, wearing excessively tight or narrow shoes can increase pressure on bunions and make them worse. If you suffer from them, you’ll want to opt for a style with a wider toe box, such as a round or square shape, Knowles explained. “You’ll also want to look for options made of more flexible materials, like soft leather, that won’t aggravate the protrusions,” she said.
Another important consideration is the heel: The higher it is, the more your body’s weight will push your foot to the front of the shoe. This can put substantial force on the big toe and bunions. Alternatively, a sturdy block heel will help distribute pressure throughout the foot to reduce pressure on bunions.
Best for High Arches: Heel With Rubberized Cushioning
Having high arches means the middle of your foot doesn’t completely come in contact with the ground. This causes you to put more pressure on the outside and balls of your feet, resulting in poor shock absorption. For this reason, Knowles recommends a heel with a rubberized or cork platform — two materials that are natural shock absorbents.
Due to the shape of this foot type, Knowles explained that people with high arches tend to do better in higher heels. However, there is a catch. Since their feet tilt inward, these types of patients are more prone to rolling over ankles and suffering from sprains. To prevent this from happening, the maximum heel height should be 4 inches.
Best for Flat Feet: Kitten Heel and Custom Orthotics
People with flat feet often develop a painful side effect called plantar fasciitis, or inflammation of the connective tissue that runs across the bottom of the foot. In this case, proper arch support is key. These types of feet don’t do well in anything other than a low heel and should be supported by custom-made orthotics. They’re also more likely to develop bunions, so rounder toe options are ideal.
Best for Wide Feet: Open-Toe Heel
When a person with wide feet steps down, their feet spread out. And when squeezed into styles that aren’t accommodating, the wearer often experiences excessive pressure on the toes and, as a result, calluses. For that reason, open-toe heels are the best option as they allow for more breathing room. Just remember that if you opt for a strappy style, the bands should have elastics or buckles for easy adjustments.
Best for Narrow Feet: Lace-Up Heel
“Whether in heels or flats, the biggest issue for people with narrow feet is finding a shoe that they’re not sliding out of,” Knowles explained. This motion can cause blistering in the back of the heel. To keep the foot in place, strappy shoes are a great option — especially lace-up styles that can be tied and customized for a snug fit.
Best for Achilles Tendon Pain: 1.5- to 2-Inch Heels
The achilles tendon runs down the back of the leg, and it’s connected by soft tissue that starts from the calf muscle and attaches to the heel. When you step down, the achilles is stretched out — so for people with naturally tight achilles, over time, this continual stretching can this can lead to inflammation, bony heel spurs and microtears. And like people with flat feet, those with a tight achilles are more prone to developing plantar fasciitis.
For this foot type, chunky block heels under 2 inches are best, as they help to redistribute pressure points to other parts of the foot.
Best for Hammertoes: Square-Toe Heel
Hammertoes, which are typically inherited, are a deformity in which your toes bend or curl downward. For the best fit, try a heel with a square toe box that won’t constrict toes.
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