Discovering Your Perfectly Comfortable Heel Height

Discovering Your Perfectly Comfortable Heel Height
shoe and heels
A variety of perfectly comfortable heel heights, photographed by Frank C. Müller 2008. [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

I don’t recall how I stumbled across How To Measure Your Ideal Heel Height, I think it was one of those newsletters where someone sends out a bunch of stuff to read on the weekend, but by the time you read all the links you’ve already deleted the source email.  (Or is that just me?)

It caught my attention because once, a very long time ago, I had a pair of heels with the perfectly comfortable heel height.  Not only could I wear them all day, but then all night as well and hardly notice I was wearing them.  Not only was the fabrication completely supportive, but the heel height was perfectly comfortable. I could even RUN in them!  Sadly I lost one of the protective top lifts and its heel wore down.  I foolishly had the other ground down thinking the shoes would still work, but alas, they were diabolically uncomfortable after that.

Don’t ever grind your heels down.  Not ever.  If one heel is ruined, just throw them out.  And if you’re about to object, most modern shoes are made of moulded plastic (see above picture) so the heels can’t usually be rebuilt.  But if you know of a really good cobbler (and I do now) it’s probably worth checking.  But otherwise, just throw them out.

Anyway…  I thought these shoes were just a random piece of wonderfulness, but it seems that we all have a natural sweet spot according to how our feet naturally fall at rest.  Or I suppose technically two sweet spots because our feet are not exactly the same.  According to Kelly’s original source, podiatrist Emma Supple, the correct heel height forces you to place you feet using the proper heel – ball – toe action.  Heels that are too low lead to arch and heel pain, too high and you get corns and calluses along with back pain relating to postural issues.  For the record, Emma says anything over 4.5″ (11.5 cm) is too high for frequent wear.

Basically, you sit on a chair (barefoot) and stick your leg out in front of you, relaxing your ankle and foot.

  • According to Emma you measure the horizontal distance between your heel and the top of your big toe.
  • According to Kelly you measure the horizontal distance between your heel and the ball of your foot.  Using the original instructions, she calculated a height of 5″ (12.7 cm) which she felt was too high.  Given we are the same height of 4′ 11″ (149.86 cm)  I have to agree – I can’t even stand that high on tip toes.  Her revised method gave her a height just under 3.5″ (8.89 cm) which seems more reasonable to me.
how to measure your foot
how to measure your foot

So having taken a gazillion pictures, I assure you this is the least bad and I freely confess that I need to work on my graphics.

According to Emma, I need heels around 6″ (15.24 cm), and Kelly 4″ (10.16 cm), so Kelly could well be right though that still seems very high to me.  On the other hand, most of my shoes are around 2″ (5 cm) and I do get arch and heel pain – the only way to know for sure is to buy a pair and try them out.

But first I think I should try this again with a straighter leg, and have DB take the pictures.  Emma also suggests the knee should be supported, so maybe I should try something other than a dining chair as well.  Just to be sure.

Of course, there are other confounding factors.  Emma highlights the need for heels to be correctly placed under the centre of the heel for proper support, and that the counter (the bit stitched into the back of the heel) needs to be stiff enough to support the shoe.  Oddly enough, these shoe construction sentiments are supported by Christian Louboutin (video auto plays) along with the need to properly cushion the ball of the foot, and Sergio Rossi who adds that the toe box must fit the toes properly.

Luckily/sadly each manufacturer uses its own version of a three-dimensional foot for a mould (known as a last) and they are generally consistent across all sizes.  So when you find a shoe that just doesn’t work for you, it is unlikely that any of that brand’s styles will work.  However, when you find a shoe that does work, there is an excellent chance that all the brand’s other shoes will work for you too.

So what are your thoughts?  Have you ever had perfectly comfortable heels?  Are you tempted to try this test for yourself?  Let me know what you discover.


    • Alexandria says:

      Thanks bobbybarbarasmith, I was quite pleased to discover a “scientific” reason why some shoes are more diabolically uncomfortable than others. Could this be a practical and functional reason to buy wildly expensive big name shoes?

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