Raise your hand if you have had to take off a pair of heels during a wedding reception. What about during a long night out? On the way to work as you hobble to the subway station? Yep, you're not alone. This is often what ends up happening to high heel wearers, considering a lot of heels aren't designed with comfort in mind. And over time, you stand the risk of damaging your feet if you're not careful.
“Wearing heels impacts gait and changes pressures throughout the lower extremity, starting from the lower back to the feet,” says board-certified podiatrist and founder of E’MAR Italy Dr. Najwa Javed. “Most commonly cited in medical literature, an increase in heel height forces the foot to an increased plantar flexion, which increases knee flexion and leads to excessive curvature of the lower back.”
What to look for in choosing a comfortable heel
Though a lot of things can determine a heel’s comfort level and wearability (including material and tolerance level), heel height, shape, and the amount of arch are the most important features to consider if you want to minimize the risk of walking around with blisters the day after. According to Dr. Javed, anything between one to three inches is preferable “because there is less pressure on the ball of the foot and lateral leg at this height.” However, if you do opt for a heel higher than three inches, Javed recommends going with a platform style heel to help shift pressure off the balls of your feet.
“Anything greater than four inches should be paired with a platform to help reduce the ball-of-foot pressure," says Dr. Javed. "As the heel height increases, the more the foot slips forward. This causes the toes to grip harder for balance, inverting the foot, and causing the ankle to become unstable. To help with ankle stability, a lower heel height is imperative.”
At the same time, it’s important to pay attention to the unique shape of your foot and the shoe's toe box. For example, many heels have a pointed toe box, which can put unnecessary pressure on the sides on your feet, particularly your pinky toes. This can potentially lead to corns, calluses, and even more painful bunions if you have them. Those with narrow feet should look for a toe box with an almond shape to better outline your foot. On the flip side, those with wider feet should look for a square toe box to allow your toes more space as you step.
For some of the most comfortable heels to wear this summer, take a look at some of podiatrist-approved picks below.
Best heels to walk in
Originally $115, now $86
If you’re looking for work-appropriate heels that you can also wear out dancing, these Michael Kors Dorothy pumps are the perfect fit, according to board-certified podiatrist Dr. Suzanne Levine, D.P.M., RPT, PC. They’re 3 1/4 inches tall, but still pretty comfortable, thanks to the padded footbed. Also, the flexible lining helps minimize the break-in period, so your feet can begin to feel more at ease the moment you slip them on.
For more stability, block heels do it better, according to Dr. Levine. Case in point: these Sam Edelman Petra Pointed Toe Slingback shoes. With a heel height of just 1.2 inches tall, these heels make strutting down your office hallway and standing up for hours on end a breeze (well, breezier). Their slingback design is also super functional, and allows you to slip them on with ease.
Made in Italy, these leather pumps are some of the few heels that Dr. Levine says prioritizes comfort just as much as style. They have a built-in arch support, and a round toe box to give your feet more room to breathe. Plus, there’s a padded insole to help better support your feet as you stand.
Originally $180, now $100
If you like a more conservative heel height, these Cole Haan Brigit Pumps are the perfect way to polish off any outfit. At 1.7 inch inches tall, they give you just enough lift off the ground without creating excess strain on your foot. They also feature Cole Haan’s signature GRANDFØAM technology in the footbed, which helps to absorb shock and distribute your weight more evenly as you walk.
When it’s time to hop on the dance floor at your BFF’s wedding reception, these Kelly and Katie Eimira Pumps have got your back. According to multiple reviewers, these heels make the perfect dancing shoes, thanks to the cushioned footbed and adjustable ankle strap that helps to keep your foot secure as you one, two, step.
Classic, versatile, and highly walkable is the name of the game with these Naturalizer Everly Pumps. They’re the kind of shoes you can rock from day to night without tiring out your feet because of the Contour+ Comfort technology. This is the brand’s unique open-cell foam that forms to the natural shape of your foot and makes it easier for you to break them in. Another plus? The shoes come in narrow, standard and wide lengths to accommodate every foot size.
Franco Sarto is another brand that Dr. Javed says is teeming with comfy heels to round out your wardrobe. And these 2.36 inch sandals are the perfect heels to pair with all your summer looks. What makes them stand out is their InFORMA comfort technology, which includes ergonomic insoles and contoured padding at key pressure points to keep your feet happy all day long.
Made in Spain, these Pedro Garcia Napa Dual-Band Mule Sandals are the stiletto heels that won’t make you feel like you need an ice bath after you wear them. They feature a 3-inch heel and buttery soft leather material that feels super smooth against your skin.
Although these shoes are an investment, Dr. Javed says shopping Chanel heels are totally worth the extra coins. Not only are they classically stylish (and go with just about everything you own), but these also have a pretty conservative, chunky heel height at 2.4 inches that makes them easy to stand in for longer periods of time.
If you just need a simple, reliable pump that you can wear for any occasion, these LifeStride Parigi Pumps check all the right boxes. Heel height is 2.5 inches and the toe box is slightly round to keep your toes from jamming together as you walk. There’s also a bit of cushioning to help give your feet some extra support. Pair them with your fave maxi dress or pair them with jeans to dress up a casual look.
If you want to help minimize your risk of foot issues wearing heels, go with any pair of E’MAR shoes. They’re both podiatrist-approved and podiatrist-made. Dr. Javed created the line with comfort and style in mind. All the shoes have a longer toe box to allow more space for your foot as well as multi-layered foam padding in the insole for max comfort.
With warm weather in full effect, these Castañer Chiara 100 Satin and Canvas Wedge Espadrilles are ones you’ll be wearing through summer and at every tropical vacay. Not only do they go with every dress in your closet, but they also provide a lot of support. The wedge heel naturally gives you more stability while the longer canvas straps allows you to tailor your fit.
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