Shoe Lifts (also heel lifts) 101

heel and shoe lifts

Shoe lifts seem to be a bit of a rage lately.

There are companies now specialized in selling these things.

Whether that is because sports stars have had them or just general word of mouth networking is anyone's guess, but what is to be noted is that if you don't need them, any shoe insert can cause long term damage- sometimes irreversible.

What are shoe lifts?

To most, a shoe lift is just what it says- it lifts your shoes up a certain height.

However, why would you need one? The list actually is not that long because there are very few reasons for their need...predominantly because there are better options for treatment.

Limb Length Discrepancy

Sometimes people who have had operations or have an inherited leg that is shorter than the other will need shoe lifts. Usually the shortest leg will require the lift.

If the leg doesn't get to the same height then the body tries to do it. It makes the foot and leg unstable in trying to lengthen itself. If this continues what you have is foot, hip and back issues that if not treated can lead to prolonged pain.

However it had to be said, we all have a slightly longer leg than the other, sometimes by 2 cms. For some reason that is natural. It is only when the length causes problems is when you do something about it. Or if the length is really out. We have to remember though to figure out what is causing out shorter leg, here are the usual suspects:

  • an actual short leg
  • hip alignment
  • shoulder alignment

Tight Calf Muscles

In some ways this treatment is counter productive, however some people have calf muscles (Gastrocnemius) that are too tight. Usually due to their own making but sometimes genetic.

In their own making means that usually it is because they have worn the wrong shoes for some time- high heels. They have a heel lift- the actual heel. It lifts up the heel and over time shrinks the calf muscle because it is not being used as it should be.

Some long time, prolonged cyclists also suffer from this issue because their legs do not fully extend when their foot goes down on the pedals.

The problem comes is that if they choose a flat shoe, the pain will be intense within their heel and their calf because now we have asked it to do it's job, and it can't- it's too short.

Achilles Surgery

Usually when someone has Achilles Tendon surgery the tendon itself is not 100% mended and needs time. A heel lift usually helps to relieve some of the tension from the tendon to the heel.


A shoe lift is something that you put into your shoe and can take it out again.

If you have a limb length discrepancy that is quite large then an insert will not do anything and your shoes will have to be built up to address the large difference. This is a key factor. Adding a lift under your heel will cause your gastroc to shorten.

Remember that anything you put into your shoes will actually make them tighter and they usually can not have more than 2cm within them before they become uncomfortable.

If you need a heel lift, remember that it should only be a temporary fix because a long term heel lift is not going to solve the issue. The lift just makes the problem more tolerable because it is keeping your calf in the position that it has always liked- being tight!

If you think you need any shoe lifts then the best person to advise is a foot health professional. Choosing wrongly can cause damage, so be careful.

Check out our calf muscles stretching page here: Shoe lifts and stretching.

The medical information on the web site is provided as an information resource only, and is not to be used or relied on for any diagnostic or treatment purposes. This information is not intended to be patient education, does not create any patient-physician relationship, and should not be used as a substitute for professional diagnosis and treatment.

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About Dominic Hough

Hi. I'm Dominic. I treat patients every day at a local clinic. I am a trained Chiropodist and I care about prevention. I designed the website to help readers understand treat and even prevent issues from happening to their feet.