Are Your Heels Too High For You?

Two things control how high a heel you can wear: your feet’s flexibility and their strength. In this post I’ll show you how to figure out the highest heel you can wear based on the flexibility of your feet.

We’ve heard this so many times: women wear heels that are too high for them, you should wear nice, “sensible” heels, your too-high heels are causing all kinds of health problems on and on. But different people have different feet, right? So how do you know what is the highest heel you can wear?

Assuming you have healthy feet (please listen to your doctor before you listen to people on the internet), go as high as you want! Provided your feet are strong and flexible enough to function at that angle. The strength component is vital and I will devote many a post to that topic. In this article, I will show you how to determine the flexibility part.

First, let’s figure out the absolute highest high heel your foot can handle. This is the maximum you can wear for the stand-around-looking-pretty occasions.

To do that, go up on your tiptoe and measure the distance from your heel to the ground, like this:

Foot flexibility standing in place.
My feet can reasonably stand around in four inch heels.

That’s all fine and dandy, but most people need a lower heel for walking than just for standing because most people’s ankles can’t bend upward to accommodate that heel during walking. Here’s what happens:


Foot flexibility stepping forward
Whenever I don’t have a bodyguard handy to carry me around, I should really stick to a three inch heel for the actual walking.

You can see that the same foot that could go up on a four inch heel when it was directly under the body in the previous photo, can only manage a three inch heel when taking a step forward.

This doesn’t happen to everybody. Some people have feet that are flexible enough to make a ballerina cry with envy, like this:

Hyper flexible feet
Well, actual ballerinas are saying feet this bendy need a lot of strengthening work, but that’s a whole another topic.

When THOSE people walk in heels, their ankles curve upwards and the heel fits effortlessly underneath, which looks something like this:

Why yes, I am just a tiny bit jealous.

The flexibility of our feet is mostly predetermined at birth. It is possible to improve it somewhat, but for the most part, you have to work with what you have. If you are one of the vast majority of humans whose feet don’t look like the video above, you are facing some tradeoffs when it comes to wearing high heels. You can

a) wear the heels your feet can handle
b) take smaller steps when you walk or
c) let your knees bend when you take a forward step

Option b is exhausting and nobody wants option c, so option a is our best choice – except for one small cheat: platforms. The platform decreases the angle of your foot in the shoe while still giving you the silhouette and height of a slightly taller heel. The platform doesn’t have to be an extreme one to provide the benefits – just a half inch tall platform will make the heel much more comfortable.

A pump with a small platform
Just a little platform can make a huge difference.

This marvelous invention gives us some wiggle room in our sartorial choices, but not to the point of being able to ignore our basic anatomy completely. Figure out your walking heel height and don’t force your feet past their anatomical capabilities. Your podiatrist will just have to find another way to put their kid through college.