Sometimes an outfit isn’t complete without a set of heels, but is it really necessary to wear them as often as we do? Overuse of high heel shoes leads to deformities, swelling, ligament and nerve damage, and increases your risk of injury(1). Nothing says sexy like callouses and ingrown toe nails, right?
How We Were Designed & Risks
Yes, high heels make your legs look sculpted but they also set you up for long-term sometimes irreversible health complications. In order to move our bodies, we require a constant, finely-tuned interaction between our muscles and tendons. Wearing heels causes imbalances in the way these muscles and tendons interact. Studies show that high heels cause fibers in the calf muscles to shorten, creating increased mechanical strain on the muscles (1).
Overtime, we see that women who habitually wear heels have complete changes to the way they walk – even when they have kicked off their heels – compared to women who don’t. This unnatural strut increases the long-term high heel wearer’s risk of strain to approximately 6 times higher (1).
With changes to your center of gravity and posture come structural changes. The natural curvature of the spine actually begins to morph adding pressure to the vertebrae and spinal cord. As a result, both the lower & upper body compensates, creating stress on your back and knees. This leads to back & knee pain and a narrowing of the spinal canal called foraminal stenosis. Foraminal stenosis is a culprit for Sciatic nerve compression which results in shooting pain, numbness, tingling, muscle weakness, and spasms (1).
Signs You Need a Heel Hiatus:
If you have been consistently wearing heels and feel you are suffering for your style chances are you need a hiatus. If you are looking for physical proof here are some signs your body is suffering.
Have a look in the mirror and evaluate these postural elements. If your chest is pushed forward, and your spine is not fairly straight chances are you are placing excess pressure on your knees and the balls of your feet.
2. Tight Calves
If you have been wearing heels for a long time your calves may even feel tight and your weight unevenly distributed throughout your foot.
3. Pain or Discomfort
Other signs heels are negatively impacting you include; foot pain, sciatic pain, back pain, and deformities of the foot including bunions.
Today, heels are a part of fashion culture, but their origin dates back many centuries. As eras passed the shape, style and purpose of heels progressed and greatly varied. Historically we think of heels as being a symbol of higher social class and sexuality but this hasn’t always been the case. Originally heels were not designed for women but rather horseback-riding men (to help keep boots in the stirrups) (3). Then as the years passed, men wore heels at a statement of wealth. The unnatural heel height
The unnatural heel height said “I am a man who does not need to do manual labour.” This idea of wealth and importance grew and in France, an edict was written in 1673 stating that only the nobility could wear high heels with a red heel (3). It was a strong symbol of their rank (and is similar to the way Christian Louboutain uses red for the soles of his shoes – only the wealthy can afford to wear them). Leading up to the 16
Leading up to the 16th century in France, women began to adopt the high heel to their own wardrobes. However, it was not until the 19th century that the high heel began to be associated as a strictly feminine fashion statement. Naturally, we were intended to walk barefoot and the negative long-term consequences clearly illustrate that we were not meant to wear shoes like this.
Some Practical Solutions
If you are looking to feel feminine while forgoing the pain, compromise with a high-heel ankle boot. This solution offers more stability while still providing some lift. Alternatively, there are many fashionable flats that can accessorize a pair of jeans or a cocktail dress. For formal occasions where you really want to wear heels look for removable heels or keep an extra pair of flats in your purse.
If you are keen on wearing pumps to work, kick them off while sitting at your desk or reduce the frequency to just once or twice a week. If a heel hiatus is not in the cards at least stretch the leg muscles, especially your calves, before and after putting them on.
While a perfect 6-inch heel can add a dramatic feel to any outfit, with this style comes physical suffering that may become irreversible. The known health risk of high heels isn’t stopping women from wearing them, but perhaps the risk of deformities and pain in the future is a costly price to pay for looking good now.
- Cronin, N. J., R. S. Barrett, and C. P. Carty. “Long-Term Use Of High-Heeled Shoes Alters The Neuromechanics Of Human Walking”. Journal of Applied Physiology 112.6 (2012): 1054-1058. Web.
- Laroche, Francoise and Serge Perrot. Managing Sciatica And Radicular Pain In Primary Care Practice. Print.
- Worsley, Harriet. 100 Ideas That Changed Fashion. London: Laurence King Pub., 2011. Print.
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