"Women in High Heels"

Written by Bija Satterlee for Dancebeat Newspaper, published Nov 2004

Bija is a Certified Personal Trainer and Motivational Fitness Coach.
She holds a BA in Dance from the University of Colorado, and is a 3 Times U.S. Representative to the World Senior Dancesport Championships (in both Standard and Latin).


“She danced passionately all night, sequined and feathered in colorful silks, her lovely head and heart bursting with joy. Suddenly she sobered... then bolted out the door, down the staircase...losing a tiny shoe as she ran. Once through the hedge, she yanked off the other shoe, writhing in pain. Standing barefoot in rags, Cinderella burst into tears...


Let’s face it, high heels are paramount for showing off beautiful legs, but they can cause their owners excruciating pain. Not only do high heels hurt while you wear them, over time they can cause damage to the joints, ligaments, and bones of your feet. Recently three different women complained to me of chronic pain serious enough to interfere with their dancing. I consulted with several podiatrists and I bring you my findings. (Men: you may also learn a thing or two from this article, and if you have a lady who puts on heels for you, there’s a special section on how you can keep the lady’s feet happy).

The average person takes about 10,000 steps a day, according to the American Orthopedic Foot and Ankle Society. Dancers probably take twice as many. High heels shift most of the the pressure to the ball of the foot and the joint at the base of the toes. A 3-inch heel creates six times more stress on the front of the foot than a one-inch heel. The higher the heel, the greater the pressure on the ball of your foot.

Those beautiful high heels can lead to metatarsalgia (swelling of the joint at the base of the big toe), bunions, heel pain, calluses, toe deformities, shortened Achilles tendons, and trapped nerves. The list goes on: neuromas, shooting pain into the toes, ingrown toenails, and even stress fractures. These foot maladies are NOT normal wear and tear! Women account for about 90% of the nearly 800,000 operations each year for bunions, hammer toes and trapped nerves. Most of these surgeries can be linked back to wearing high-heeled shoes. Yet our love for them endures, and the high heel lives on.

As dancers, we become accustomed to a certain amount of pain. The artist / athlete in us doesn’t dare complain too loudly. If you dance in high heels frequently, there’s not a lot of time for your feet to recover between taking your dance shoes OFF and putting them ON again. However, your feet should NOT be hurting from dancing! In our competitive world, we ignore cries of help from ‘down there’, we gulp a few ibuprofen and keep going. If you do this without addressing the problems, your feet will eventually betray you, and your dance career may end too soon ~ because you wouldn’t listen! You could end up with painful scar tissue, cycles of pain/inflammation, and unnatural compensation by other muscles. How we suffer for our art!

YOU NEED NOT BE VICTIM of the foot vs. shoe war. Let’s look at both PREVENTION and CURE for the sake of our feet.

How to Care For These Puppies
We all know how to keep our biceps in shape, but few know how to keep feet and toes in good condition. Our feet contain 26 bones each, 33 joints, 107 ligaments, 19 muscles, and numerous tendons, nerves, and blood vessels. These compact biological masterpieces need a strengthening program of their own. Here are exercises to strengthen your toes and feet.
1) Toe Raise, Toe Point, Toe Curl:
Hold each position for five seconds and repeat ten times.
2) Toe Squeeze:
Place small corks or toe guards between toes and squeeze for five seconds. Repeat 10 times.
3) The Golf Ball
Roll a golf ball under the ball of your foot for two minutes. Great for foot cramps.
A half-ball, smaller than a tennis ball but firmer. REALLY great exercise/stretch for the sore metatarsal joint. Stand on the half-ball, spreading out the metatarsal and arch. This stretches the calf as well. Contact Bija through the web site (www.bodiesbybija.com) to purchase a set of these wonderful foot tools.
5) Sand Walking:
Any chance you get, take off your shoes and walk in the sand. Massages and exfoliates your feet, strengthens your toes.
6) Marble Pickup:
Place a handful marbles on the floor. Pick up one marble at a time and put them in a small bowl. Then take them all out again, one by one.
7) Towel Curls:
Place a small towel on the floor and curl it toward you, using only your toes.

Surely you’ve had a great foot massage at some point in your life. You should get good at giving them too. (Guys, you listening?) A foot rub can be brief or quite indulgent, but is ALWAYS welcome. The main thing is do what YOU know feels good:
• squeeze the heel
• rub the arch
• bend the big toe joint carefully
• flex and point the ankle
• gently pull on the toes
• massage the calf muscle
If you use lotion or oil, it is even better. THIS will make your lady appreciate you! (You can wipe down before or after with travel wet-wipes that you keep in your dance bag.)

Even if you are stiff and it’s hard to get your hands on your own feet, you should give them a thorough treatment; to relieve the aches, manually increase range of motion, and stretch all the muscles. You could do this before dancing, right after dancing when you take your shoes off, first thing in the morning, or at night. There is no bad time for a foot massage! It removes waste products from the muscles, and increases circulation (which aids healing and recovery).

The muscles in the calf are shortened in high heels, and you should stretch them every time you wear them. Stand on a step, or a thick book, and let your heels hang down. Relax. Stay there 60 seconds or more. This is probably the most important thing to do after wearing high heels.

MORE IMPORTANT FOOT CARE BASICS!• FIND A PODIATRIST to help you with your particular foot issues.
• Wear appropriate, properly fitted dance shoes, sports shoes, and ‘fashion’ shoes. Put metatarsal pads in those Manolo Blahniks!
• Warm up before dancing or doing sports, at any age.
• Shop for shoes in the afternoon. Your feet tend to swell during the day, and it's best to buy shoes to fit you then.
• Try shoes on both feet. Many people have one foot larger than the other. It's best to fit the larger one.
• SPENCOS or DR SCHOLLS inserts are a ‘must’ for your dance shoes. If this makes your shoe too tight, use just the metatarsal part.
• Take clean new insoles with you when you try on new dance shoes. Try a half size up if the padding makes them too tight.
• Give your feet a BREAK! Wear flats after dancing hard in heels.
• Have more than one pair of dance shoes, and alternate wearing them.
• THROW YOUR OLD SHOES AWAY! Before you know it, new shoes become old and the support gives way, putting your ligaments at risk.
• Replace the insoles when they wear out as well. You might go through a couple pairs pairs of insoles for the life of every dance shoe.
• Trim your toenails straight across with clippers specially designed for the purpose.
• Leave toenails slightly longer than the tips of your toes.
• Lose weight (if you need to) for less pressure on your feet.
• Try THORLO socks; slightly thicker, they wick moisture away, and support your feet. They come in black and white. (from www.sockco.com).
• Coaching shoes that lace up should be snug, not stretched out. Try on different heel heights.
• Use ice when your feet hurt, to reduce inflammation.
• Ibuprofen GEL can be purchased from www.Johnsondrug.com but requires a prescription. Rub the gel into your sore muscles instead of taking it internally. This works!
• Joint Rescue Gel (from www.PeacefulMountain.com) or Arnica gel are homeopathic remedies you can rub on.
• Glucosamine / Chondroitin helps to repair and rebuild joints from the inside.
• Take non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication (Advil, Motrin) to reduce the pain and inflammation (if you must).
• Last ditch efforts: cortisone shots, Restylane injections for padding (only works for a few months, but Hollywood celebs do it).

We love dancing like life itself, so there’s no going back! And high heels are an important part of the package. OK, we accept this. Just be on the lookout for signs of trouble, and get Pro-Active with your foot care. Extreme foot pain is NOT normal, and is directly related to improper shoe fit, overuse, lack of stretching, insufficient rest, and muscle imbalance. Despite what you're willing to tolerate as a lover of dancing, you may underestimate the damage high heels can cause. You work so hard at getting fit and staying healthy otherwise, please be smart, and take good care of your tootsies! It’s easier to prevent injuries than to cure them.

Feel free to contact me through my web site, www.bodiesbybija.com, to address this or other fitness issues.

In Joy and Good Health,
~ Bija Satterlee
Certified Personal Trainer and Motivational Fitness Coach


Well-Known Member
Great article! I'll need to print this one out. I ended up with plantar fatiitis (a swelling of the tendon on the bottom of your feet) in both feet because I spent too much time in high heels. I had it for almost a year before I was smart enough to figure out that my pain wasn't normal! It then took over a year of wearing orthodics in flat shoes, losing weight, ibuprofen, and reflexology to get as over it as I am...and I still have problems when I'm on my feet all day, even in comfy shoes. I hope the guys who insist on their partners always wearing high heels whey they dance read this.

Thanks Bija!
Here's an article http://web.archive.org/web/20051027125300/http://alum.mit.edu/ne/noteworthy/insolia.html about some innovations in shoe design that are supposed to help redistribute some weight back towards the heel, to reduce pressure on the ball of the foot. It sounds like what they've basically done is make something with a stable standard-shoe-like heel and then add a contoured shape to the arch to keep the foot from slipping forward in it. I wonder if this would be applicable to actual dance shoes (for standard only - for latin forcing the weight forward is a design intent).

And it sure would be fun to play with that pressure mapping thing
Last edited by a moderator:
I own a pair of Bandolinos (really beautiful Italian shoes with a 3" heel) that are comfortable enough I can wear them all day and even RUN in them with no pain and no pain the next day!

The secret? They are balanced "just right" and have a tiny ankle strap that keeps my weight centered more over the heel. The balls of my feet never get sore in these.

I've seen and tried many gel pads for the metatarsals, and 'skid's to keep your foot back in the shoe. They are often WAY too bulky to dance in. A Spenco insole, cut to just the metatarsal part is made of some wonderful material that doesn't break down, like Dr Scholls.


Well-Known Member
I love Bandolinos. I got my first pair a LONG time ago, and I noticed the same thing. They're beautifully balanced, so that your feet don't take such a beating as they do in some other shoes. Nice. 8)

And where do you get the Spenco insoles?
That's a great article and too many women abuse their feet! I LOVE high heels and feel VERY comfortable in them, but I work standing, up to 10 hours a day, and would never attempt wearing a pointy-toe shoe or anything over 2 inches high on the job. (I often wear pants, so low, almost flat-heeled boots will do for now, and sandals in the summer! )The heels I reserve for nights on the town. My feet are in beautiful condition and I plan on keeping them that way!
I never buy any kind of shoes if I feel they are imbalanced... I always try the shoes and if the weight is on the balls of my feet, I refuse to buy then! The weight should be properly distributed on the entire sole, no matter how high the heels...

I get Spenco inserts at the drug store, where the foot care things are.

You can also shop online at www.footsmart.com.

I also buy for all my sneakers: the Polysorb CrossTrainer Insoles,
"This insole delivers three times the benefits as normal insoles, absorbing shock, reenergizing feet and reducing friction. Price: $19.95"

and worth every penny!

For your dance shoes though I would just get a regular pair of flexible insoles, no special padding in the arch support.


Well-Known Member
Thanks, BbB. :D

And about the Bandolinos, I really can't say enough good things. They're nice looking shoes, and they are so comfy. I got my first pair to wear to my first job interview many moons ago, and have been wearing Bandolinos ever since. In fact, I loved that first pair, black patent leather pumps, so much that I wore them out, and kept re-buying the exact shoe until the style was discontinued. Three pairs of the exact same shoe. That's how much I loved them. :oops: And they had three inch pencil heels. 8)

Edit: Oh, btw, they are not dance shoes. They're street shoes, with everything from super dressy styles to sandals and casuals. Nice. 8)


Well-Known Member
I just got around to reading the whole article BBB! Fantastic! Especially the pointers on foot care.

Thorlo socks? Do you recommend them for use all the time, to sleep in (I moisturize my feet and sleep insocks, sometime,) or under sports shoes, or other?

And what do you recommend for "preexisting conditions," like bunions, corns or calluses? Anything?
I hang around in &/or sleep in socks from my mountaineering shop. I have thick, 100% wool socks that keep me just as warm as my 100% synthetic socks.
Bunions- there is surgery to correct that, if it is a severe enough case.

Corns- there are corn-removing pads available over here in Japan(medicine in the central part of a ban-aid like item. Wear it for a week and then you take it off. Corn dries up and peels right off. I have used this product once and it worked well.)

Callouses- Pumice stones, big time. I use them all the time. Keep feet beautiful year-round. Soften your skin up in the shower/bath first, then go for a serious scrubbing. For seriously thick callouses, there are pedicurists for slicing the unsightly things off. I have never had a pedicure but take such excellent care of my feet that I never have needed one! 8)
I think a lot of women buy these shoes because they don't know any better. When I first started dancing and wanted to invest in a good pair of dance shoes, I was practically forced to buy high heeled shoes from the store owner (who was a ballroom dancer). I don't think she understood that when dancing WCS that a high heel isn't what I wanted or needed. Fortunately my dance partner knew better (from years of competing) and didn't let me buy them. I escaped with minor damage to my pocketbook.

I do have a pair of heels that I wear when I dress up, but that's few and far between.

A lot of beginner dancer's in WCS I see are wearing high heeled ballroom shoes. It's out of place, at least in our club, and I would imagine very uncomfortable. My word of advice for anyone starting out is to see what everyone else is wearing before buying a pair of shoes that will wreck havoc on your feet.


Well-Known Member
I'm going to start a thread on this, if you don't mind -- what are the best shoes for swing, and for West Coast Swing, in particular. 8) I have a feeling the answer's different between swing dance genres, but I don't know for sure. So here goes. 8)
The women in Japan have utterly awful fitting footwear and even teens are getting bunions these days! They buy shoes because they're "cute" (whether they fit or not)and I often hear of friends buying other friends shoes for souvenirs when they go abroad(as they are much cheaper than in Japan). You can see a visible gap in the back of the shoe on most ladies' shoes and they look to be a size or two too big for them. With the ill-fitting shoes come other problems- young ladies are complaining of excessive back pain and stiff shoulders. Selecting proper-fitting, sensible footwear is very important.

Dance Ads