How Heels Affect your Feet
We believe that it’s probably safe to say that most women have at least one pair of high heels that they absolutely love in terms of look. Unfortunately the same cannot be said for how those heels make their feet feel. Heels are perceived to be worth the pain they inflict because they make legs look taller, feet smaller and the body thinner (or so the story goes).
So this begs the question, how do heels really affect your feet and is it then worth it to continue wearing them consistently? We’ll also preface by saying that we’re not medical professionals and expert advice should always be deferred to. The following is meant to be an informational guide that digs up some of the relevant research for you. Enjoy!
Ways Heels Affect Your Feet
We’ll start with the most obvious, it is quite easy to roll or sprain your ankle when wearing heels. Foot injuries to women between the ages of 20 and 30 are more often than not heel related. Factor in alcohol (as usually heels are worn out in the evening) and you have a bad mix. Wearing high heels tends to push the center of gravity forwards and upwards so it’s much easier to lose you balance and harder to retain stability.
So taken at a practical face value level there are obvious downsides and risks associated with high heel usage. But what else is going on? Let’s look a bit deeper.
Unnatural foot position is the default mode for the heel wearer, and according to WedMd this has a number of implications. “Heels put a lot of stress on the ball of the foot. At this critical joint, the long metatarsal bones meet the pea-shaped sesamoid bones, and the toe bones (phalanges). Too much pressure can inflame these bones or the nerves that surround them. Chronic stress to the foot bones can even lead to hairline fractures.”
To look for more bad news about heels we needn’t search far. Research published in the International Journal of Clinical Practice notes that wearing high heels for significant periods of time can actually alter the muscle balance around the ankle joint, leading to instability and balance problems.
Long term usage has also has been evaluated and you guessed, it more bad news for your feet. The author of a study in the National Center for Biotechnology warns that wearing heels increases the changes in length that a muscle goes through when you walk. These changes can have numerous downstream effects such as muscle stiffness and even higher susceptibility to arthritis in some cases.
Some other common albeit more anecdotal effects of high heels are:
- Callouses, and blisters
- Joint Pain. Unlike other types of shoes, heels lack the ability to absorb shock
- Shortened Achilles Tendon (over the long term)
- Lower Back Pain (can be a causative factor
- Lack of Cushion (noted above)
- Falling and Sprained Ankles, extremely prevalent
- Increased chances of ingrown Toenails
But they look so good you might be thinking. Well there are some solutions, and these include:
Dr. Surve, professor at the University of North Texas Health Science Center Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine advocates the following:
The high heel stretch, which is a way to help plantar fascia, calves and loosen hamstrings. This stretch is best done before or after prolonged heel usage and if possible a few sporadic times throughout the day.
Try this stretching routine during your next break or free moment:
- Lay a book with a roughly one-inch spine on the floor.
- While standing, place the ball of your right foot on the book and rest your heel on the ground.
- Bend forward at the waist and try to grab the toes on the book. (If you need to bend your knees a little, that’s OK).
- Hold for 30 seconds.
- Switch feet. Repeat two to three times or as your body allows.
- Gradually increase the height of the book by 1-inch increments per week to a maximum of 3 inches.
Doing this stretch should alleviate some of the symptoms associated with high heels, particularly if you don’t wear them all that often. Which brings us to another simple and very easy remedy, limit the amount of time wearing heels. Throwing them on for a special occasion now and then will likely save you from almost all of these potentials affects.
Professor Neil Cronin, who authored the NCBI study listed above also recommends the following in terms of solution: Wearing thicker heels (wedges anyone?) as opposed to stilettos as they help your balance. Keeping heel height to 4cm or below is a good rule of thumb. Wearing soft insoles can reduce pressure that the abnormal foot position places your body under. Companies such as Dr. Scholls make inserts that are specially designed for heels. Some other solutions are to alternate the wearing of heels with flats or other more comfortable shoes, and while wearing them take them off occasionally to give you feet a break. Sitting at your desk for example is a great time for this.
At the end of the day none of this should not be earth shattering news to anyone. Everyone knows heels are a bit problematic to wear. Hopefully now you are slightly better informed about what some of the specific consequences can be for your feet and what can be done to ameliorate these issues. You can now come up with an effective strategy to protect your feet and throw on the style now and then.
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