What happens to your body when you stop wearing high heels

We get it. Nothing looks sexier or completes the perfect outfit better than a gorgeous pair of high heel shoes. They're glamorous, they're eye-catching, and they give you those three inches of height that your gene pool shorted you, allowing you to stand tall and confident. Plus they seem to automatically make your walk more feminine, and click in that oh-so-satisfying way every time you take a step. 

But unfortunately for high heel lovers everywhere, it turns out that they might not be so great for you. In fact, they can cause a variety of different problems, from discomfort and muscle fatigue to ankle function changes to serious knee problems, according to research. Yikes! Still stoked to wear your pumps out tonight?

Fortunately, the damage caused by wearing high heels isn't always permanent. So if you've decided to ditch the stilettos for good, get ready to reap the benefits of the flat-footed life. Here's what happens to your body when you stop wearing high heels.

You'll lengthen your calf muscles

If you throw on a pair of heels every once in a while for a special occasion, you probably don't have anything to worry about. But if you wear them all the time, that's when you'll start to see changes in your legs and feet, according to the experts. "When you are a chronic high heel wearer you shorten the calf muscle, so even when you don't wear heels you face the risk of having heel pain or even developing/exacerbating plantar fasciitis," noted Dr. Samira Mehrizi, a podiatrist in Southern California. 

But the good news is that ditching your high heels can really help you heal, even undoing some of the damage. "When you stop wearing heels your calf muscle will stretch back to its normal length making your strides less painful," Dr. Mehrizi continued. It might not happen overnight, but you'll be on the road to recovery right away.

Save sensation in your toes

Your calves and heels aren't the only parts of your body that suffer when you don those sexy stilettos; you might also be putting your toes at risk of negative impacts. One such condition that can plague your little piggies as a result of this is the loss of physical sensation, according to Dr. Barbara Bergin, a Board Certified Orthopedic Surgeon. So what happens if you decide to kick your heels to the curb?

Dr. Bergin gave The List the specifics. "You're taking pressure off the tiny, little nerves that pass between your metatarsals and supply your toes with sensation," she shared. "This will lessen the likelihood that you will develop painful neuromas, and neuropathy of your toes." In other words, wearing high heels can pinch nerves in and around your toes and cause a burning, tingling sensation, as well as numbness. Taking the pressure off means you're less at risk for causing severe damage — and you might start to feel your toes again soon. 

You can say goodbye to back pain

You might think that wearing high heels only affects your feet and legs, but that's not the whole story. The reality is that there are damaging effects that these kinds of shoes can manifest much higher up on your body, according to experts. "Effectively, the increase in muscle demand can go right up through the body, from foot to leg to the lower back, to the middle back, up to the neck," Associate Professor Lloyd Reed from the QUT School of Clinical Sciences in podiatry noted in The Huffington Post Australia. And that can have an impact.

There's more to it, according to Dr. Mehrizi. "When you wear heels you also tilt your pelvis back, putting more pressure on your lumbar spine and the surrounding muscles," she told The List. So not only can that cause your pelvis to go out of alignment, but it can also give you some pretty irritating back pain.  

Fortunately, there's a light at the end of the tunnel, according to Dr. Mehrizi. "When you stop wearing heels the pelvis goes back into alignment thus putting an end to back pain," she shared. There's one reason to invest in a nice collection of supportive flats.

There's less risk for gross fungal infections

Women are willing to endure a lot for fashion. After all, every day we squeeze into uncomfortable garments like underwire bras, pantyhose, tight pants, and of course, high heel shoes. But did you know there are some aesthetically unpleasant problems you can develop from prolonged high heel use? Specifically, you might be prone to certain types of unsightly infections. "Pointed shoes and high heels which cause constant pressure on the toes, especially the big toe, can result in damage to the toenail," Dr. Bergin told The List. "Damaged and deformed toenails are more susceptible to fungal infections." Gross!

Fortunately, there's hope if you stop wearing high heels. "[Doing so] will decrease pressure on your poor toenails, lessening the likelihood that you will develop fungal infections and deformities that will bother you for the rest of your life," Bergin continued. So unless developing nasty fungal infections doesn't bother you, high heels might not be worth it.

You'll lessen your chance of developing deformities

While fungal infections sound super unpleasant, there are more severe problems that can develop as a result of prolonged high heel use. According to Dr. Bergin's blog, wearing high heels can also make you more likely to develop bunions and hammertoes, which are complicated deformities. A bunion is a bony bump that develops on the inside of your foot at the base of your big toe joint. And a hammertoe is a toe that has an abnormal bend in the middle joint that causes the toe to look like a hammer. Neither of those sound very comfortable, to say the least.

If you haven't developed these deformities yet, there's still time to avoid them by jettisoning your gorgeous-yet-impractical heels. If you do? "It will remove deforming forces that result in painful hammertoes and claw toes," Dr. Bergin told The List. "It will lessen the likelihood that you will develop a painful, unsightly bunion deformity." So prevention is key here.

You'll reduce harmful impact on your knees

You guessed it: wearing high heels is bad for your knees, too. In fact, high heels might contribute to osteoarthritis of the knee in women (who are twice as likely to get it than men), according to a study in The Lancet. The study, which observed 20 women who were comfortable in high heel shoes, concluded that high heel use puts added pressure on the knees and can predispose you to degenerative changes in the knee joint. 

"That's why most people who wear really high heels will find their knees hurt rather than their ankles," Associate Professor Kevin Netto, Director of Research at the School of Physiotherapy and Exercise Science at Curtin University told The Huffington Post Australia. "Basically because of the sheer force you set up in your knee."

Once again, cessation is the key to avoiding bodily wear, tear, and damage. Dr. D. Casey Kerrigan, the primary study author, and Chairman of OESH Shoes told The List, "When you stop wearing high heels you reduce the impact on your knees by between 19 percent and 26 percent with each and every step, depending on the height and width of the heel." Those are some significant statistics, ladies.

You'll walk more efficiently

You'd be hard-pressed to think that women who have mastered the art of striding with a purpose in their high heels have any trouble walking, or are affected in any way by observation alone. But despite how confident those power walkers seem, long-term high heel use alters the neuromechanics of how we walk, according to a study in the Journal of Applied Physiology. The study, which observed nine women who wore high heels at least 40 hours a week over two years (as well as ten non-habitual wearers), concluded that long-term high heel wearers show compromised muscle efficiency while walking. Basically, long-term high heel use changed their strides and default foot position — even when they weren't wearing the heels.

So can anything be done to prevent this? Indeed, you can switch to sneakers or supportive flats to avoid such a predicament. Additionally, according to Dr. Neal M. Blitz, taking "heel holidays" can help you beat a "high heel hangover," according to an article he penned in the The Huffington Post. He also recommends massage, stretching, and yoga to minimize the damage.

Less risk of ankle injury

You don't have to be a natural klutz to injure yourself in high heels. That's because wearing them shifts your natural balance point outside of where it's supposed to be. "When you wear heels, you bring the balance point in your body higher, so you become less stable and much more prone to falling," Netto told The Huffington Post Australia. And the higher the heel, the greater your chances of falling.

What's the most likely injury you can incur while wearing high heels? Reed discussed the results of one study that looked at data from ER visits directly related to high heels. "All of the people injured were less than 55 years of age, and the most common injury was an ankle injury, which doesn't really come as a surprise, as when ankle is flexed, it's more prone to ankle sprains," he continued.

So what happens to your ankles when you abstain from wearing heels, or wear them less often? You guessed it: The less you wear heels, the less likely you are to injure your ankles — and the stronger they'll be — according to a study in the International Journal of Clinical Practice.

Your body needs time to adjust

If you're considering getting rid of high heels after wearing them for a long time, science says your body might need a little bit of time to recover. Mitchell Starkman, a Toronto-based physiotherapist, told The List, "When you stop wearing heels, your body needs to re-adjust to no longer living on a tilt!" So it may take time for things to go back to normal.

Reed agrees. "It can actually become uncomfortable [to wear flat shoes] if someone has been wearing high heels for long time. They might experience leg pain and discomfort, and that has to do with the shortening of the muscle belly of the calf," he noted in The Huffington Post Australia.

So what does it mean to stop living on the tilted edge? "Your tissues will begin to adapt to this new positions, your achilles tendons will lengthen, your lower back pain can vanish and your feet won't feel like stiff boards anymore," Starkman continued. "That being said, I always recommend a slow transition as the body needs time to adapt." So before you have a flash sale or head to Goodwill with a donation box, you might want to keep a few pairs of heels around as you transition. As always, talk to your doctor for the best way to proceed.