Stilettos get a bad rap for throwing your body out of alignment, but don't think that just because your shoe is flat that it's better for you. One of the most walkable, flattest shoes around is just as bad as super-high heels: ballet flats. Unlike heels, which put all the pressure on the balls of your feet, flats add extra pressure to your heel, without any arch support, according to podiatrist Hillary Brenner, DPM. Additionally, "a heel will lead to stress on the outside of the knee," says Miguel Cunha, DPM, at Gotham Footcare. "A flat will lead to stress on the inside of the knee."
Which is just to say, comfort isn't everything. In fact, when Dr. Cunha shared the key features to look for when buying shoes, comfort was secondary to shape. Of course, your ideal shoe will depend ultimately on your foot type, but there are a few guidelines. First, a wide toe box that bends upwards is recommended, to allow your toes to wiggle around and move naturally. Second? A thick, 1-inch heel to stabilize your stride. Finally, both doctors recommend a rigid, supportive shape with a cushioned, stable arch area. You know those flats that bend completely in half? That should not happen.
Unfortunately, we live in a world where shoes aren't always created for orthopedic value, and we like — and like to wear — the pretty little things that aren't always good for us. So ahead, we asked our two pros to rank our favorite shoes on a scale of 1 to 10 (one being great for our feet, 10 being awful). Ahead, an in-depth look at just how bad our mules, sneakers, and ankle boots really are. Hint: The slides are in order from worst to... least bad.
Stilettos, Higher Than 2 Inches Dr. Brenner: 9.75 Dr. Cunha: 9.5
Not all heels are created equal, obviously. There are plenty of factors to account for: stability, height, ankle support, etc. But if you're just looking at heel type and height, a stiletto with a heel higher than two inches is one of the worst shoes for your feet.
Any shoe higher than 4 inches got a 10 from Dr. Cunha, but even a 2.5-inch heel will severely disrupt your center of gravity. Extended wearing of these heels can cause pinched nerves and shortened tendons. Think about it: You're basically banging on the balls of your feet with every step.
If you do plan on wearing stilettos, both doctors recommend wearing them two to three hours max, and taking them off mid-day for a few exercises and stretches. "You can draw the alphabet with your foot, or draw the number 8," Dr. Brenner recommends. "Or you can take a tennis ball and roll your foot over that." Massage your arch to help your blood flow, which in turn helps prevent varicose veins or nerve irritation. Just remember: "The higher the heel, the greater amount of pressure, and that will lead to issues in the bones," Dr. Cunha says.
Flip-Flops Dr. Brenner: 10 Dr. Cunha: 9
Sorry, Californians, but "they’re the worst," Dr. Brenner says. Not only do most generic flip-flops lack arch support, they also force your toes to curl in order to hold onto the flimsy piece of rubber protecting you from the ground. Why would you want to force your feet to do even more work than normal?
"Every time you take a step, your toes curl, and that leads to issues like hammertoes," Dr. Cunha says.
Ballet Flats Dr. Brenner: 9.75 Dr. Cunha: 8.5
Flats might feel like the comfiest shoes you've got, but "[you] can be wearing comfy shoes, and they can be just as bad as heels," Dr. Brenner says. Without arch support or any sort of shock absorption for both the balls of your feet and the heels, people with flatter feet risk getting stress fractures and developing neuromas (enlargement of nerves between bones). For those with high arches? The shoes rank as a 7 for Dr. Cunha. But even then, the cut of a typical ballet flat could constrain your poor toes. "When you're wearing pointy narrow shoes and not much support, the bones rub together," Dr. Brenner says. Not a fun — or comfortable — situation.
Bad Sneakers Dr. Brenner: 9 Dr. Cunha: 7
Yes, bad sneakers exist. What makes these shoes so bad isn't necessarily the construction of them — it's the fact that they're marketed and catered to athletic audiences. Watch out for sneakers that feel too comfortable to provide support (just like ballet flats). Bad sneakers will be so flexible, your heel will be able to move around from left to right — which could increase the likelihood of ankle sprains and twists.
Granted, walking around in these all day is better than walking around in 5-inch heels; if you're just wearing them to brunch, Dr. Cunha rates them as a 4. But running, exercising, and doing anything more than walking in these? That's when the problems happen.
Mules Dr. Brenner: 8 Dr. Cunha: 6
Mules are slightly deceiving: They look like a comfy, solid shoe, but the lack of ankle support makes them almost as bad as flip flops.
This goes for heeled mules, too. "It's worse to have a heel that doesn't support the back of your feet," Dr. Cunha says. " In addition to the extra weight on the front of your feet, you also have to curl your toes to make sure the shoe doesn't fall off to the side every time you plant your foot down." Heeled mules can leave you more susceptible to sprains, hammertoes, and bunions thanks to the constant flexing of your feet.
Gladiator Sandals Dr. Brenner: 7 Dr. Cunha: 6
Thanks to the multiple ankle straps on gladiator sandals, these summer shoes are slightly better for your feet than mules and flip-flops — even when they're flat. Add a sturdy 1.5-inch heel, and you get a little more support with the style.
When buying heeled sandals, however, Dr. Brenner recommends taking a look at the arch support of the shoe. "Yes, having a heel is great, but you still need that extra support below," Dr. Brenner says. "If it has good arch support, then I would take it down to a 5 or a 6."
Stilettos, Lower Than 2 Inches Dr. Brenner: 7 Dr. Cunha: 5
At less than 2 inches, the problem here isn't about the height: It's about the heel. "In terms of stability, with a stiletto heel, you're more likely to develop an ankle sprain," Dr. Cunha says.
But, a 1-inch stiletto could actually provide more support than a (gasp) ballet flat. "Yes, a stiletto is less stable, but with a 1-inch heel, it puts less stress on your knees," Dr. Cunha says. "For someone who is flat-footed, a 1-inch heel is actually ideal." Someone with higher arches, however, might have to rethink this option: "People with high arches are more likely to roll their ankles, so when they wear heels, they're more likely to twist around."
Chunky Heel, Higher Than 2 Inches Dr. Brenner: 6 Dr. Cunha: 7.5
These shoes get a slight pass thanks to their stable, squared-off heel. "I'd say these are just two grades down from stilettos," Dr. Cunha says. "You may not get an ankle sprain, but you're still putting all that pressure on the front of the foot."
Just remember: The higher a heel goes, the more pressure it puts on your feet — and the worse the shoes are. "Anything above 4 inches, I would say, is an 8 or 9 here," Dr. Cunha says.
Chunky Heel, Lower Than 2 Inches Dr. Brenner: 4 Dr. Cunha: 4
At two inches, chunky heels will still add extra stress to your knees and back. These will be better, however, than a 4-inch heel for everyday walking.
Take the heel lower, however, to about 1 inch, and you may have found the perfect shoe. Booties with a 1-inch chunky heel received a rating of 2 from both doctors. Just like a 1-inch stiletto, the heel will provide extra arch support for those with flat feet. But unlike stilettos, the stable, square heel will help you avoid any rolled ankles — making those cobblestone streets just a bit safer.
Wedges Dr. Brenner: 3 Dr. Cunha: 4
Wedges might not be the most elegant of shoes, but the extra cushion of a good wedge makes these one of the best options for your feet — given that they're not too high. "If I want to go for height, I almost always go for the wedge," Dr. Brenner says. "With a wedge, you have a built-in arch support." Instead of wooden heels, however, Brenner recommends finding cork or rubber soles for extra shock absorption.
Good Sneakers Dr. Brenner: 1 Dr. Cunha: 1
Good sneakers will provide ankle support and arch support. Both doctors recommended New Balance and Asics sneakers, with toe boxes that bend upward. "You shouldn't be able to twist the shoe, and you want a good thick, wide arch with some cushion," Dr. Brenner says, noting that you want the shoe to support your feet fully from ankle to toe.
One good tip? "Everyone should buy their shoes at the end of the day," Dr. Cunha says, "because that's when your feet are the most swollen, after gravity brings all the fluid down."
By: Jessica Chou