Does Wearing High Heels Cause Varicose Veins?

As a male, I admit I don’t know a lot about women’s shoes. I can tell from the pile of footwear my wife and daughters leave in our entryway at home there are many different types, but that’s about it. As a physician, however, I do know that when it comes to varicose veins, shoes matter. If you want to keep your leg veins healthy, you should avoid wearing high heels.

Additional Risk Factor

Some of my female patients are pretty unhappy when they hear they need to give up their favorite shoes, but to be honest, you can still wear them on special occasions. Women who wear heels daily are the ones who are adding another risk factor to their probability of developing varicose and spider veins in their legs.

Let me explain.

We all know that the heart is a pump that moves blood around the body. What you might not know is that to fight gravity the heart needs help from the other muscles—in particular, the muscles in your lower leg and foot. When walking barefoot or in low-heeled shoes, your foot steps naturally from heel to toe, contracting and releasing the muscles in your feet and calves and pushing blood up the veins past one-way valves. Think of it like pumping the air in a blood pressure cuff.  Each squeeze of the bulb forces air up the tube past a valve. When the bulb is released, it fills with air again and the cycle repeats until the cuff is full.

While wearing heels, your foot is essentially immobilized and your calf stays contracted—in the “squeeze” position. Walking is accomplished using muscles mostly in the thighs and buttocks. By preventing the muscles in the foot and calf to naturally relax and contract with each step, you’re inhibiting the normal pumping cycle.

Give Your Legs a Break

So let’s say you’ve been invited to a wedding or you have a big job interview, and you want to wear your tallest dressy shoes. What can you do? On the days you must wear heels, take some breaks. Slip them off and walk around barefoot for a few minutes, or sit in a chair with your legs extended, and point your toes toward and away from you several times to mimic normal walking to get your blood moving.

Whatever you do, don’t trade your health for fashion’s sake. A little bit of prevention now can really impact how your legs look and feel in years to come.