One of my clients in her 20s complained about cramping and pain around her right big toe. I asked her a few questions and found out she just started working (1 month ago) at her first professional job wearing high heels every day. I told her right away that high heels cause foot pain and are detrimental to her health! The toes are one of many amazing features of the body that are sadly overlooked, misused and abused. Most of the problem occurs from wearing improper shoes (high heels, too small, excessively cushioned, too narrow, blister prone) and not stretching and strengthening the toes. Over the past few decades it has been the goal of manufacturing companies to make shoes for fashion and/or for comfort, focusing on aesthetics for the former and support for the latter. Well, unfortunately neither of these shoe forms provides a solid foundation for the feet and toes. Why? In regards to high heels, your feet are in a more plantarflexed position, putting an extreme amount of pressure on your toe joints and most specifically on your big toe joint. This can create hammer toe, bunions, and osteoarthritis in your toe(s). Pain and injury can even run up to knee, hip and back muscles and joints.

Too much plantar flexion can cause cramping and exhaustion in intrinsic foot muscles and up into the leg.

Comfort shoes, on the other hand, cause a different kind of problem. Comfort shoes conform around your arch providing extra support at a serious cost. The added support actually weakens the feet (consequently the toes) inhibiting them to do the job they were born to do! You have all these wonderful muscles and bones in your body to perform a certain function and shoes are taking these powers away from them.

Back to my client, I told her that she was overworking her flexor hallucis brevis, the muscle that flexes the big toe. It is a muscle that runs underneath the middle of your foot to the start of your big toe. When you are wearing heels, your feet are continuously plantarflexed, causing the FHB to be constantly contracted. Constantly contracting your FHB can lead to cramping, which is a misfiring of the muscle neuron complex, making muscles contract even more. In other words, she was cramping because she was overtaxing her flexor hallucis brevis. In addition, the pain she was feeling on her right big toe was the sheer force of each footstep on the toes and the pressure the shoe placed directly on the big toe joint.

By happy chance, Yoga Tune Up® has a colorful array of exercises for toe pain for your FHB that will tickle your fancy on the 10 Minute Quickfix for Feet and Ankles. Come on! When was the last time you played with your toes?

Learn about the YTU feet and ankles pain relief solutions

Watch the QuickFix Online Feet and Ankles video

Discover the YTU At Home Program


Kristin Marvin

From Ottawa, Canada, Kristin now resides in Perth, Australia; where, she is spreading the wonderful world of Yoga Tune Up®. You can contact her via

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Sheena Nadeau

High heels are so damaging! I love the way they look but can never last longer than an hour in them. thank you for this great explanation and video to help!

Gabrielle Acher

Although I am not a heel wearer or fall victim to the soft shoe; at least not anymore, I suffer from a tender underside of the big toes. After 3 years of teaching yoga full time — I’m definitely on my feet all day –and arms, and posterior, yet I degress here. I am a flip flop wearer who spends much of her day bare foot on hard floors. I am off to massage my FHB WITH MY NEW YOGA TUNE UP BALLS!

Kaiitrin Doll

I get that high heels are bad, every time I wear them for more than ten minutes I end up with lower back pain, foot cramping etc. I also totally get where you are coming from with the comfort shoes as well. Based on the reality that I need to wear shoes, what type of shoe would you recommend?

Lou Shapiro

Wow, Kristin! Thanks! I’ve been telling my dear friend for years to quit wearing the high heels on the marble floors where she works, always running down the hall for something. She just had the bunion surgery & can’t wait to get back to the heels. Argh!!! I told her what you said. I, on the other hand, am always wearing comfort shoes. Oops! Looks like we BOTH have some thinking to do.

Tam Nguyen

it’s a good reminder that we were born with the gift of movement and we have a lot of muscles, joints, connective tissues, etc. in our feet and yet we mis-use them or ignore them. Thank you for the article.


As someone who’s had “bad feet” their whole life, i appreciated this posting. When i say “bad feet”, I mean they’re really wide so cute, “girly” shoes either look ridiculous on me or they don’t come in my size. “Bad feet” because I always had to buy 2 pairs of pointe shoes for ballet, both by different companies (one more flexible than the other) because of arch “issues”. “Bad” because when i rebel and wear a really hot shoe (for me), I end up with a black toe nail or blisters that just make me thank the lord when i… Read more »


Unarguably the high heel has not been kind to the female foot; but gender aside, considering how our feet are both “bound sausages” in most modern footwear (and often are ignored in training and self-treatment practices) time spent in this simple pose is worth every second. I can remember “playing” with toe interdigitation as a child. But having been reintroduced to it through Yoga Tune Up as an adult, I can say it can have a profound impact on the longevity of foot health and comfort, especially when paired with the life-altering foot rolling applications of the Therapy Balls!

vivian nguyen

Coming from an Asian culture, my mom and aunts take pride in having tiny feet and then on top of that they all wear crazy tall shoes because we’re super short. It’s just always been part of their lifestyle to have aching feet. Thank god there are so many “reflexology” massage studios where they can get a foot rub for cheap. But even cheaper I got them all some rubber balls to roll out on, my family loves them!


After wearing heels for years I developed cramping and tingling in two toes on my right foot. After doing a few silly yet amazing YTU poses that involve feet, ankles and toes, I’m tingle free! I miss my heels but not the pain that comes with wearing them.

Patricia Antoni

thanks for the story and I love the comments about being a yogi and not having to wear heels. 🙂 Too bad about your client she’s so young to already have foot problems. Their are lots of shoe souls and items to help shoes fit correctly you can just buy in the stores. Running shoes I was told should also be bought a size bigger which I kept that habit and even other sport shoes

Jocelyn Larson

Kristin way to create awareness for your client! It is amazing how our habits create such bad influences on our bodies. If you think about cramming your toes into high heels all day as a yogi you probably want to be sick. In yoga we are constantly are trying to create space in between our toes, abducting them away from each other. This is a great practice to gice the toes a stretch that they need and deserve. So why after and amazing toes stretching session would you stick your toes back into a high shoe? I gues they do… Read more »

leilana pueliu


Dinneen Viggiano

Your client is extremely fortunate to have your expertise so early in her heel-wearing working career! This information and YTU body work will ameliorate her likelihood of maintaining lower leg health. Back in the day when I used to wear heels, in my 20’s, tromping around foreign cities in heels, I fractured my sesmoid and never again will my feet be the same.

Mariah Frye

My feet are definitely a lot happier the less amount of time I’m in heels. It makes me cringe to think I used to wear them day in and day out to my office job! The one thing they are good for is dancing, since they force you to be on your toes, making you agile and able to break it down with ease. But as far as foot health, dancing in flats (or better – barefoot!) is definitely the better choice. For tall women, another reason not to wear heels is always welcome. 🙂

Addison Gumbert

I have never been a big fan of heels for this very reason! I did a little research on feet for a science project in high school and I found horror stories about the feet and calf muscles suffering tremendously! I would like to know about the slip-on shoes, as well (ie toms) I have heard that with too much support your arches will weaken and you will begin to NEED it. And also, without support, you arches will fall.

Thanks for the information!!


Luckily for me, I hate heels. I’ll wear them in special occasions, but I have never been a fan. However, unbeknownst to me – “comfort shoes cause problems too!” I really do feel like you can’t win with shoes. Working in a yoga studio, I see a lot of “yogis” in their sock like slip on “shoes” – are those helpful? I just want to be able to walk around and not end up with pains in my lower back or cramping in my foot. Thank you for the video – as those tips will certainly help me alleviate any… Read more »

Emily Faurholt

I am just thankful that being a yoga teacher I am not required to wear any type of shoe!


Karusia: Thank you for your response. I am going to agree to disagree with you. I am not going to get into the social, psychological, or historical issues of the high heel, I am just stating that biomechanically speaking they are an atrocity. High heel shoes, just like many other modern day footwear compromise the natural biomechanical properties of the foot. This can cause serious problems in some people and in others minor issues. I would never tell anyone to completely stop wearing high heels, just like I would never tell anyone to stop eating their ‘comfort’ food (unless either… Read more »


CLARIFICATION I wrote in my article: “When you are wearing heels, your feet are continuously plantarflexed, causing the FHB to be constantly contracted.” This can be misconstrued and I apologize. Thank you Karusia for writing: “In high heels the ankle joint is plantar flexed while the metatarsalphalangeal joints are extended.” Yes, the FHB is lengthened AND it is contracted. Here is why: The higher the heel the more people use their toes for balance (and especially their big toe). What does this mean? The toe is constantly pressing down on the sole of the shoe to the ground providing balance… Read more »


Thank you for discussing this issue! I have had horrible pain in my right big toe for some time, which I thought came from jamming it a while back. Whenever i am very active the injury returns and there is clicking in the toe. I realize now this may have been a growing problem from working as a hostess and bartender for many years. I will definitely check out the video.

Karusia Wroblewski

Hi Kristin! I too am a big fan of anatomy, and as a dancer/yogini who has been exploring dance barefoot and in heels for decades, I can’t resist adding a few tips. For years I danced in heels, high heels! Let’s face it, heels are fun, heels are sexy. There is nothing inherently wrong with them in principle. The best advice I received was this: “You have to control the shoes, don’t let the shoes control you.” This is what I learned. Not all shoes are created equal. If you want to wear heels, choose well and train well. Platforms… Read more »