If you’re a woman, you’ve likely worn high heels at some point in your life. They are sexy after all, accentuating every definition in your legs. Maybe you wear heels every day… Maybe you won’t after you read this article.
Women have approximately four times as many foot issues as men, according to the College of Podiatry — something podiatrists contribute to the wearing of high heels. Accordingly, a 2014 survey by the The American Podiatric Medical Association (APMA) found that nearly half of all women (49 percent) wear high heels. Not surprisingly, the majority of heel wearers (71 percent) reported that the shoes hurt their feet.
High heels can throw your body alignment out of whack. “Your feet are the foundation for your entire body, and when you walk in heels, you change your center of balance,” says Emily Splichal, DPM, podiatrist, human movement specialist, and author of Everyday Is Your Runway: A Shoe Lover’s Guide to Healthy Feet & Legs. When you slip into a pair of high heels, Dr. Splichal says, your feet slide forward into the shoe.
“The increased weight on the balls of your feet causes your pelvis to tilt forward,” she explains. To compensate, you lean backwards, increasing* the arch in your lower back, which puts a strain on your lumbar spine, hips and knees The higher the heels, the greater the strain.
There may be several reasons to wear high heels. There are several more reasons not to:
High heels alter the anatomy of the calf muscles and tendons
A 2010 British study revealed that wearing high heels on a daily basis results in stiffer Achilles tendons and calf muscles that are about 13 percent shorter than normal.
It’s not the overall size of the calf that changes, but the length of the muscle fibers. According to NPR, study author and physiologist Marco Narici compares the effect to muscle atrophy that strikes people confined to their beds for a long time. Bed rest keeps muscles in a fixed position, causing some muscle fibers to become shorter.
Walking is Dangerous
A woman’s body will attempt to compensate for the off-kilter balance heels cause by flexing or forward bending the hips and spine. In order to maintain balance, the calf, hip, and back muscles become tense. This makes for excess muscle fatigue and strain.
Don’t forget to take into account that walking in high heels is actually uncomfortable. If you are going to be walking long distances, it would be advised to substitute with a pair of flats.
Injuries are more likely
An October 2013 study in the International Journal of Biomedical Engineering and Technology found that jogging in 2 ¾ inch heels increases* lateral movement of the knees (toward and away from each other), which could contribute to arthritis.
Not to mention other injury that is generally sustained due to tripping or getting a heel caught in a groove in the ground. This can cause sprained or broken ankles and other likely injuries.
The simple truth is they are Impractical
It’s already obvious that heels are not good for your health. Try driving or running, period. A good note of reminder is that while nobody wants to be paranoid, we all need to look out for our own safety. If you find yourself in a risky situation, you may need to make a quick exit. Running in heels is really not an option. It’s not safe and it’s not easy. It may be safer to swap to flats when in a situation that may require you to use your feet at full functionality.
Other Health Issues
Regularly wearing high heels can cause other foot problems like bunions, hammertoes and nerve damage.
“High heels don’t promote proper foot posture,” says Phillip Vasyli, a podiatrist and founder of Vionic, a brand of biomechanically correct shoes with built in orthotics, according to a report from the Dr. Oz Show in 2013.
Daily high heel use over a number of years is said to actually lead to changes in your anatomy. Teetering on stilettos puts undue stress on the back and knees as the weight of body shifts forward. Additionally, calf muscles can shorten and tendons may thicken. Spondylolisthesis, or the slippage of one vertebra forward over another, frequently occurs as a result of wearing high heels, especially in the lumbar region of the spine where the body’s weight is concentrated.
Foraminal stenosis is a spinal nerve condition that can occur when anatomical abnormalities block or reduce* space in one or more foramina. Foraminal stenosis in the lower back can cause symptoms of shooting pain, in addition to numbness, tingling, muscle weakness, spasms, cramping and pain that radiates through the buttocks and down the legs. Sciatica, caused by the compression of the sciatic nerve, is a term that is often associated with this particular set of lower body symptoms.
Finally – incessantly wearing high heels can cause Haglund’s deformity
Otherwise known as “pump bump”, that occurs when straps of high heeled shoes dig into the tissue around the Achilles tendon. Haglund’s deformity is also known as the Mullhulland Deformity and is a bony enlargement on the back of the heel that most often leads to painful bursitis, which is an inflammation of the bursa (a fluid filled sac between the tendon and the bone).
According to Huffington Post, there are things you can do to when you absolutely must wear heels:
- Dr. Splichal says to “stick with heels that are 3 inches or less. Anything higher will change the biomechanics of how you walk, compounding the stress you put on your back and hips.”
- Wear a thicker heel – says Elena Blanco, DPM, of New Jersey’s Hackensack Center for Foot Surgery. She says that “a thick heel can offer stability and support, and help spread the load more evenly.”
- Be aware of your posture. “You should be wearing the heels – the heels shouldn’t be wearing you,” Dr. Splichal says. “Be aware of how your body is positioned and counter the tilt of your pelvis by keeping a neutral stance — shoulders back, chest out, soft knees. And resist the urge to fall on the ball of your foot by distributing weight evenly on the heels and balls of your foot.”
- Mix it up some days – “Every shoe has different stress points, so tease your heel height throughout the week to give each part of your feet a break,” Dr. Splichal explains. “If you wear 3 inch heels one day, switch to a 2 inch heel the next, then try a flat.” Or, she goes on – “Tuck your heels in your bag and wear flatter, comfier shoes when walking to and from work or to a big event. Then swap the shoes when you arrive at your destination.”
- Look for softer soles. Cushioning inside shoes acts as a kind of shock absorber, lessening the impact of your foot hitting the pavement and reducing* the strain on your knees, says Dr. Blanco.
Otherwise, if you want to get away from wearing heels all together – Here’s how to undo the damage
- Work those hips – “The more flexible your hips are, the better you’ll be able to tolerate the stress that heels put on your body,” says Dr. Splichal. “Keep them limber by doing at least five minutes of hip flexor stretches before and after putting on high heels.”
- Use a golf ball – Roll it under the ball, arch and heel of your foot for five minutes in the morning and evening. This massages feet and keeps them flexible.
- Stand on a step barefoot, letting your heels extend off the edge. With your weight on the balls of your feet, lower your heels down as far as you can, then rise up on your toes and slowly return to the starting position. Repeat for about 30 reps.
- Flex your toes – Sit barefoot in a chair and loop a towel under the toes of your foot. Pull up gently on the ends of the towel, pulling your toes toward your chin. Repeat 10 times on each foot.
- To strengthen your ankles and improve* range of motion, use your big toe to trace each letter of the alphabet in cursive in the air, moving only the foot and ankle.
- A stretch for your feet includes placing about 20 binder clips on the floor. Using your toes, pick up one at a time and drop it into a cup.
And there you have it ladies. Give up the high heels for a pair of flats. Let us set the trend for healthy, happy feet.