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Comfortable Heels for High-Style Women

Your feet (and back) don’t have to suffer for the sake of style

By Ellen Seiden | May 21, 2012

You know high heels aren’t good for your feet — or knees or back — but a beautiful, towering pair can be hard to resist. We've all suffered as a result of our weakness, but eventually many of us will decide that longer- and sexier-looking legs aren't worth the pain and disfigurement of hammertoes, bunions and the burning sensation of plantar fasciitis. Often, a “heightened awareness” usually trumps vanity. But is our only option the dreaded “sensible shoe”?

“No way," says Dana Davis, 43, founder of the Los Angeles–based shoe company that bears her name. After eight foot surgeries (because of the diabetes she's had since childhood) Davis wasn’t ready to abandon her quest for stylish heels — they just had to be comfortable. Finding nothing suitable, the former elementary school teacher took on the challenge herself. She consulted with podiatrists, foot surgeons and shoe designers, and in 2009 created a line of luxury heels that are constructed not to hurt. You can't see these features, but all her fashion-forward shoes include such invisible-yet-essential features as orthotics, platforms and supportive cushioning.

“Over time, poorly constructed heels can cause such problems as worn-out joints and knee osteoarthritis,” says Katy Bowman, a biomechanics scientist and author of Every Woman's Guide to Foot Pain Relief. Heels aren't a deal-breaker, Bowman says, provided they follow these comfort-guaranteeing guidelines: Shoes should be made from supple materials (for flexible foot movement), be cushioned on the sole and have a wider toe box, a ridge in front of the ball of the foot, and a heel cup. These modifications are designed to address foot pitch, which affects the entire skeletal system, body alignment, distribution of weight as well as localized pressure and stress on the ankle and foot.

If shoes don’t fit in the store, they won’t get better, so don’t buy them, Bowman adds. If you can’t stand comfortably in them, you’re not going to be able to walk comfortably.

For every hour you spend in heels, Bowman recommends doing five minutes of foot and lower leg exercises to help prevent foot damage. Calf stretches, done by pointing and flexing the foot, are good for this (and are easily performed under a desk).

If the damage is already done, Bowman recommends her “high heel hangover remedy”: Keep a water bottle in your freezer. At the end of the day, roll your foot over it for about a minute. Ultimately, Bowman advises: “High heels are like dessert. Everyone loves them, but you don’t need to indulge every day.”

These 12 shoes best provide both style and comfort.

Ellen Seiden is a Los Angeles–based freelancer who writes about beauty, fashion and history.