Do High Heels Cause Bunions?
By Holly Daniels Nelson
Nov 5, 2018
Updated Nov 17, 2023
5 min read
Ask around and you'll find many women have a love-hate relationship with high heels. They like how they look but don't always like how their feet feel after wearing them. Yet when women buy shoes, they often choose fashion over comfort. High heels may help you look taller, dressed up, and trendy, but wearing high heels or shoes that don't fit properly can contribute to foot pain and foot problems especially if you already have foot problems or have a genetic tendency toward them.
"Wearing ill-fitting shoes tends to make foot problems worse but it doesn't cause foot problems," says Intermountain Riverton Hospital podiatrist J.J. Reagan, DPM. "High heels often have a narrow toe box that puts pressure on the toe and pushes the toe over to the side. But flat shoes can be bad, too, because they're narrow and don't provide enough arch support."
A bunion is a painful bony bump that develops on the inside of the foot at the big toe joint.
Bunions are progressive, develop slowly, and get worse over time.
"A bunion forms when the bones that make up the metatarsophalangeal joint move out of alignment. Pressure on the big toe joint causes the big toe to lean toward the second toe. Over time, the normal structure of the bone changes, which results in the bunion bump," says Dr. Reagan.
About 23 percent of adults aged 18-65 have bunions. And 35.7 percent of people over 65 have bunions. They're twice as common in women as in men.
Many celebrities and models have bunions. If you zoom in on the red-carpet shots of celebrities like Amal Clooney, Amy Adams, Naomi Campbell, or Paris Hilton you'll see a few bunions.
Bunions themselves aren't inherited - but certain foot types make a person prone to developing a bunion.
"In most cases, bunion pain is relieved by wearing wider shoes with adequate toe room and using other simple treatments to reduce pressure on the big toe," says Dr. Reagan. One of the latest trends in footwear are zero-drop shoes that don't have a raised heel and have a wider toe box. There are zero-drop athletic shoes and everyday shoes.
"Zero drop shoes are good for your feet because shoes with a raised heel can weaken and shorten your achilles tendon. Zero drop shoes keep your feet in a more natural position. But they do take some time to get used to wearing," adds Dr. Reagan.