They say that a women can never have too many pairs of shoes and that you can’t put a price on fashion. However, although high heels have regularly been brandished as a stigma for bad health and comfort, this rarely stops women from wearing them. The fact is that the sacrifice for foot fashion comes at a price.
Studies now show that high heel shoes can be detrimental to health, impacting upon your hips, spine, knees, ankles and feet, whilst also throwing your posture out of position. When your body is in proper alignment then it actually operates more functionally and ensures better overall health. It is true to say that 72% of women wear high heels at some time or another in their life but more than conforming with societal norms, structurally it can be quite damaging.
In a perfect state the body should be properly aligned from head to toe, with feet flat on the floor. Because of the elevated heel from these types of shoes, it pulls muscles and joints out of alignment. This means that the problem doesn’t just stop at the feet. In fact, it is not unusual for people who elect to wear high heels to also suffer from lumbar, neck and shoulder pain because the shoes interfere with the natural contours of the body.
Eventually, a women’s body will make a natural effort to try and compensate for the out of shape balance that heels cause by either bending forward or flexing the hips and spine. In order to try and literally redress the balance, the body will become tense, in particular your calf and back muscles. Over time this will inevitably cause muscle fatigue and can even cause the calf muscle to bulge out of place. However, more than just achy muscles, here are the other things that high heels can affect:
Perhaps the most obvious of all body parts that high heels negatively impact upon is the feet. The height of a heel will actually determine the weight that is carried by the footwear. For example as the heel gets higher, the pressure increases on the front and ball of the foot. This starts from a one inch heel which puts an additional 22% pressure on your feet to 3 inches which can increase the pressure on your feet by up to a huge 76%!
At its most primitive level, heel will not allow your feet to function properly. It’s the unfortunate reality that heels, which have been described as ill-fitting footwear, can lead to joint diseases, bunions, calluses, ingrown toenails, hammertoe deformities and just about any foot related problem that you could imagine.
Due to the fact that wearing heels transfers your weight towards the balls of your feet, your knees are often forced forwards in order to keep your balance which in turn leads to excess stress. There have been studies to suggest that if your joints are improperly aligned then you have a greater chance of developing arthritis. Podiatrists are also in unison when they say that the knees are thrown out of kilter when wearing heels.
Apart from your feet, your hips will ultimately decide the majority of your postural alignment. However, when wearing heels, your hips are forced into a set position, often thrusted forward again putting additional pressure on the balls of the feet. Your hips also mostly determine the type of leg movement that you carry out. This can therefore not only provide pain to your hips but more broadly the inside of your legs, buttocks and hamstrings. Essentially, when your hip is placed in an unnatural position, you lose control of your entire posture, leading to further back, neck, leg and foot pain.
Although your feet, knees, hips and sometimes shoulders will be affected by wearing high heel, the real damage that can be done is to your back. Just as your hips and knees move forward in an attempt to evenly distribute your weight, your lumbar region will hyperextend backwards. This can cause lasting damage for your back in the long term, becoming susceptible to arthritis, back spasms and chronic back pain.
Usually your back or spine is positioned in an ‘S’ shape which acts as a type of shock absorber, limiting the impact on the vertebrae. In addition, wearing high heels causes the lumbar region of your spine to flatten, leading to poor postural alignment. These type of shoes also causes you to lean forward and the body will respond by reducing the forward curve of your lower spine, essentially reducing the ‘S’ shape to more of an ‘I’ shape. This not only confirms the fact that if you consistently wear heel you’re likely to have poor postural support but also that the muscle overuse will cause lasting back pain.
If wearing heels is absolutely crucial to your everyday life, then it is important to try and set you heel height to two inches, buy shoes in the afternoon when your feet are at their largest, have a wide variety of shoes available and avoid pointed toe heels. This will not ensure that the negative affects to your health mentioned above will go away but to a certain extent it will limit the pain that you will experience. This will change from individual to individual dependent on preference but it is important to get the right compromise between style and comfort.