For centuries, women have braved the discomfort of high heels as a symbol of sophistication, social class, and feminine expression. Without shame, we’ve come to accept and cope with foot pain and soreness resonant of high heels if the alternative means not wearing them at all. But at what cost? Studies show that high heels are one of the leading causes of women’s foot problems, while up to one-third of women suffer permanent foot damage as a result of wearing heels for a prolonged period of time. A survey conducted by the American Podiatric Medical Association further reveals that 73% of women admit they’d wear a shoe even if it hurt their feet. Sadly, it’s not just our feet we’re putting stress on. When you wear high heels, your foot naturally slides forward into your shoe pushing your toes into an abnormal position, and consequently, redistributing your weight. With your weight exerted to your toes, your body tilts forward and you arch your back to compensate. After prolonged high heel wearing, this can lead to an unhealthy posture that causes long-term bodily injury. “The change to the position of your spine puts pressure on nerves in the back and can cause sciatica, a condition where nerves become trapped, triggering pain and numbness as far down as the feet," said Dr. Natalie A. Nevins, an osteopathic physician from Hollywood, Calif. To limit foot pain and alleviate some of the pressure you put on your body, not to mention your stems, here are some tips to protect (and heal) your feet when stepping into your favorite high heels.

TIP #1: Get a proper fit

Adopt a Goldilocks state of mind. No matter how cute the heels, avoid purchasing if they don’t have them in your size; whether too small or too big. Whereas high heels that are too small or narrow can lead to nerve damage or painful bunions, those that are too big will cause your foot to slide forward and redistribute your weight. Neither option is in your best interest. To ensure they fit right, walk around in them slowly for a few minutes in the store. You will know fairly quickly if your feet don’t mesh with the high heels.

TIP #2: Avoid the high heels

The higher the heel, the more you open your body up to injury. Stilettos lend to foot pain by offering little support, and heels higher than 3-inches can actually damage the Achilles tendon.

TIP #3: Add some cushion

Add some soft insoles to limit the impact on your legs and knees, or better yet, invest in lightweight silicone metatarsal pads that insert into your high heels to limit foot pain. These absorb shock and reduce friction associated with wearing high heels, while providing added support. In addition, they help to treat foot soreness and prevent inflammation.

TIP #4: Plan ahead

If your schedule requires you to be on your feet more than usual, skip the high heels that day and opt for something with more support. If you have a special event or an important meeting and professionalism is key, consider a lower heel (one-inch) or wear a pair of flats until game time. (Some companies make comfortable ballet-style flats that roll up and fit into your bag!) Another good tip is to alternate the days you wear heels to give your feet a break.

TIP #5: Give yourself a foot massage

Keep a few golf balls in the freezer and use them to massage your feet before bed or after a long day of wearing heels to ease foot pain. Roll the icy golf ball under the ball of your foot, applying slight pressure. Then slowly glide the ball in circular motions down to your heel, taking about 30 to 60 seconds per foot. Switch feet and repeat as necessary.

TIP #6: Stretch out your feet

Set aside some time before bed to stretch out your calves and the arches in your feet. There are a number of ways you can do this. For one, stand near a wall and press your toes up against the wall with your heel touching the ground; apply slight pressure to get a good stretch. You can also stand on the edge of a stair or step, while holding on, apply your weight to the balls of your feet and let your heels extend off the edge. Then slowly drop your heels down to feel a deep stretch in your arches.

TIP #7: Apply a healing ointment

A cream or ointment derived of natural, therapeutic ingredients can help to heal foot pain faster. Ingredients like arnica, ginger, and menthol work together to reduce pain and inflammation so you can recover quicker.

Carly Harrill,  Natural Health Care Expert, Zax Health. Follow her on Twitter at @carlyharrill or visit her blog.