The Effects Of Wearing High Heels On The Body

By Wendy Innes. May 7th 2016

Millions of women everywhere wear high heels every day and love them. They are willing to spend a fortune on a fantastic pair of high heels and bear the pain that comes along with them with a smile. But like many other forms of fashion folly of days gone by, researchers have discovered that wearing high heels, even for a relatively short period of time, can have some major effects on the body.

Researchers have found that even young women who wear high heels for 40 or more hours per week walk differently than women who don't, even when they are wearing flat shoes. This can lead to injuries and deformities over time.

Effects Of High Heels On Feet

There is no doubt that high heels have a huge impact on feet. After all, that's where shoes belong, right? High heel shoes can have a number of detrimental effects on the feet, some that could result in the need for surgery or lifelong pain.

Over time, high heel shoes, or any other type of shoe with a narrow or pointy toe can cause:

  • Bunions: These are bony growths that occur around the base of the big toe and can cause the big toe to angle inward toward other toes causing pain.
  • Corns: This is a thickened area of skin, typically caused by repeated friction against a shoe. Corns can become painful over time and often this occurs in conjunction with bunions.
  • Hammer toe: This is a condition in which the end of a toe, usually the second toe, is forced downward by tight fighting shoes resulting in deformity. This is can only be corrected by certain medical devices or surgery.
  • Morton's neuroma: This is an injury to the nerves in the mid-foot. This causes tissue around the area to thicken, and can cause pain and numbness. Surgery is sometimes needed to remove this tissue to relieve the symptoms.
  • Pump bump: Technically called Haglund's deformity, this is a bony growth that occurs on the heel as a result of the constant pressure and friction of rigid backs and straps from high heels. The only way to treat this deformity is surgery, which removes the excess bone.
  • Metatarsalgia: This is a painful type of inflammation that occurs in the ball of the foot as a result of repeated pressure on the metatarsal bones, which are the bones that run between the toes and the arch of the foot.

High heels also increase the risk of ankle injuries because they interfere with balance. The higher the heel or platform, the higher the risk. It also becomes harder to walk, especially for more petite women who have shorter legs and smaller feet. They don't have the same gait as when their feet are flat because they have to compensate for the extra height in their shoes, which increases the risk of tripping or falling, leading to strains, sprains and breaks of the ankle.

Effects On The Legs And Knees

The next place where the impact of high heels can be seen is in the legs and knees. While, high heels make legs look long and shapely, they also cause some problems that can become quite serious, causing issues with walking, even while wearing flat shoes.

  • Achilles tendon: High heels cause the Achilles tendon to shorten significantly. Over a relatively short period of time this can cause a number of problems with walking because tendons provide much of the spring required for walking. When the Achilles tendon can't do its job, the muscles of the lower leg must take over and this can lead to injuries.
  • Calf muscles: Like the Achilles tendon, high heels cause the Soleus and the Gastrocnemius muscles to shorten. Over time this can cause these calf muscles to become tight and painful when walking without high heels on.
  • Knees: High heels place an increased amount of pressure on the knee, particularly the inner knee, which is one of the more common areas that women experience osteoarthritis. One study found that this pressure on the knee joint increased by 26 percent, which is a significant increase considered the forces that the knee is already subjected to.

Effects On Hips And Back

Walking in high heels changes the mechanics of the body, and as such, the majority of the body must compensate to keep from falling down. While they look good, this state of altered body mechanics can wreak havoc on the hips and back over time.

High heels cause the pelvis to rotate forward, increasing the curve of the lower back and forcing the buttocks out. This can cause severely increased pressure on the lumbar region of the spine and lead to a host of back problems.

Hips aren't spared, either. Because the lower leg isn't able to work as efficiently as it should in high heels, the hip muscles must help take up some of the extra work. Over time, this can cause injuries in the small muscles around the hip joints that make walking possible.

Safety Tips

There are some safety tips for wearing high heels to keep any damage they may cause to a minimum:

  • Limit the wearing of high heels to no more than two or three times per week. If this isn't possible, take them off as often as possible, such as when sitting at a desk.
  • When sitting, flex the calf muscles and rotate the ankles frequently to help keep these muscles loose.
  • Choose a wedge style over a stiletto style heel. A wedge provides more support and doesn't cause the lateral movement that a stiletto can.
  • Shop for shoes at the end of the day. Feet tend to swell slightly throughout the day so feet will be slightly larger at the end of the day, ensuring a more comfortable fit.

High heels are certainly attractive and can accentuate a person’s legs. However, when worn frequently, they can cause some serious damage to the body. So save the stilettos for a special occasion and opt for something more comfortable and supportive, making it better for the body.


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