High heels and stilettos are very popular and fashionable among women especially in today’s modern society. Not only does it made you look taller but also sexier and prettier when match with your favorite dress or gown. So what are the harmful effects of wearing high heels?
Are you aware that high heels not only cause chronic foot problems, but it also leads to common complaint like leg and back pain? If you have existing foot problems like plantar fasciitis, hallux valgus, bunions, hammer toe or ingrown toenails, the problem can be further exacerbated.
Statistics show that more than 20000 women visited the hospital or podiatrist due to falls or sprained ankles. Many studies have also highlight that these sexy and lovely high-heeled shoes of yours can take a toll on your spine, ankles, hips, knees and feet, while altering your posture and gait.
Negative Effects Of High Heels On The Body
The body’s center of gravity shifted forward when standing on high heels. This affects the appropriate standing posture as the body attempt to make a series of adjustments. A 1-inch heel is enough to tilt the body forward by about 10 degree. So what does it mean if your body is rigid and does not adjust to the change? Yes! You will have toppled and fall forward. As such, in order to gain balance, your body will make postural adjustments from the toes all the way up to the spine.
Well, the true fact is that 3-inches high heels are more appealing than lower ones, right? When you are wearing 3-inches high heels, it actually curled your toes at your foot while raising and straining the arch. Generally, higher arches are preferred than lower arches as the latter looks more attractive.
In the leg, the calf muscles protrude more in higher heels giving the impression that the legs are strong and slender with beautiful muscle tone. At the knee, it is bent when the heel is lifted up. To maintain a straight posture, tension is created in the thigh muscle which looks firm and strong as well. Usually, with a 3-inches heel, the pelvis is tilted forward 10 to 15 degree which leads to a “sexy” curvature in the spine. This makes the buttocks appear protrude 25% and lifted up the breasts.
That is how a sexy and wavy body posture is obtained and explains why 3-inches high heel is apparently more popular and loved by most women. However, it is also due to these minor postural adjustments that can have negative effects on the body after a long period of time.
Harmful Effects Of High Heels On The Foot
Do you know that the foot suffered the most when resting high heels? When standing without any footwear, both the heel and toes rested flatly on the floor. At this state, the body weight is supported by the arch of the foot and is distributed equally between the forefoot and hindfoot.
With 3-inch heel, the arch becomes flexed with the ankle almost extended fully. The toes are also being “locked” into a hyper-extended position and curled up in an attempt to flex and grasp the floor to balance.
The arch which is being strained and lifted up, weakens the ligaments and causes it to fall as time goes by. Basically, the arch acts as a shock absorber and spring that virtually obliterated. This is because on high heels, the arch will never land or support the entire body weight during walking or movement.
Besides, high heels shifted the body weight away from the heel to the balls of the foot. This causes a 90 % redistribution of the body weight to be supported by the metatarsal heads at the forefoot. Over time, this can cause chronic overuse injuries such as thickening around the nerves, leading to pain. Otherwise, bony outgrowths such as bunions will develop.
In addition, the impact of high heels on the forefoot is compounded by the cramped toe-box (general design of high heels). With the cramped forefoot bearing most of the body’s weight, it can results in deformities of the toes such as bunions, hallux valgus, hammer toes and falls prone to Morton’s neuroma as well as bone spurs.
Not only that, with elevated heels, it leads to a shortening of the calf muscle and the Achilles tendon. Typically, the higher heel you wear, the shorter the tendon will become. In less than 6 months, this can cause measurable changes to the length of the tendon and muscles. This explains the primary cause of “flip-flop-it is”, the pain felt by many women when they switch from winter shoes to flip-flops in the springtime. This happens as the shortened tendon and calf muscle become stretched and painful when walking barefoot or low-heel shoes.
Harmful Effects Of High Heels On The Knee
One study conducted at Harvard University in 1998 concluded that the heels of the shoe can have a dramatic effect on the knee joint. As in the foot, the body’s weight is evenly distributed between the front and back portions of the knee when standing barefoot.
In 2-inch heels, the body’s weight is shifted forward and the load on the front of the knee is increased by 23%. Another study conducted in 2006 also found that shoes increase the average load on the front of the knee by around 12% as compared to walking barefooted. However, in this study, the heels of the shoes were not clearly studied as the participants involved in the study were asked to wear their own daily shoe wear for walking.
Till today, it is finally accepted that shoe heels plays a major factor which contributes to degenerative arthritis in the knee for both men and women. This means that the higher the heel, the greater the impact is on the knee and other joints. Taking into consideration that high heels alter the weight distribution on the knee joint, it explains why a disproportionate number of women suffer from arthritis in the knee especially osteoarthritis as compared to men.
Of the 20 million Americans, 60% osteoarthritis patients are women. One of the studies actually indicates that the incidence of knee osteoarthritis in elderly women was almost twice as high as in elderly men. Though there are many studies conducted with an attempt to understand the differences that focused on the effects of estrogen and the larger cartilage volumes of men, it seems that high-heeled shoes are a likely factor to the observed discrepancies.
Harmful Effects Of High Heels On The Spine
Our human spine possesses four curves known as the cervical, thoracic, lumbar and sacral curves. One of the main functions of the curves is to act as a shock absorber during walking or running and reduces the stress on the vertebrae.
When wearing high heels, there is an impact on these curvatures especially the lumbar curve. This is due to the fact that the body is tilted forward at around 15 degree which diminishes the spine’s ability to absorb shock. In addition, the amount of shock at the spine has already been increased due to the less shock absorption by the foot.
In fact, it is a common complaint for some women that they experienced lower back pain after long hours of walking or standing on high heels. Many doctors and therapists actually evaluate that high-heeled shoes cause an increase of the lordotic curve of the lumbar spine, and that the increased lumbar lordosis is the main cause of the pain.
Therefore, with the negative changes of the curvatures and increased shock or stress on the spine, having lower back pain, spine or nerves problems is fairly common. One of the common problems is foraminal stenosis which is a spinal nerve condition that occurs when anatomical abnormalities block or reduce space in one or more foramina. Sciatica is also another problem that is associated with compression of the sciatic nerves which radiates through the buttocks and down to the legs.
How High Heels Affect The Way You Walk
Many women actually does not realize how high heels have affected the way they walk and how it can have an impact on their legs or feet. So the next moment when you are out on the streets, try to observe a woman wearing high heels and pay attention to her feet and ankles. Otherwise, if you think that it feels awkward by observing how other women walk, you can always get your best friend or colleague to be your model.
Once you are on your high heels, your ankle is literally strapped into a permanent state of extension with the arch trapped in a high flexed position. At the same time, your toes are also fixed in hyperextension.
With your ankle and foot being locked in this position, it causes dramatic changes of the gait. Since the ankle cannot be flexed as in normal shoes, the stride length is therefore reduced and the heels landed flat (not the foot).
During walking, every step that you take actually lands primarily on the head of the metatarsal bones with your forefoot being the main load-bearing point. At such, this causes the function of the arch (to support the body weight) to be eradicated.
As you can see though high-heeled shoes can make you look great, gorgeous, fashionable or sexier, it can eventually leads to chronic pain in your foot, lower back, legs, knees or spine. However, that does not mean you have to give up your favorite high heels at all. The key recommendation is try not to wear them frequently or only wear them on special occasions.
If wearing high heels is unavoidable due to your work, then you might consider the following tips which can help to lessen the harmful effects of wearing high heels.
- Before and after you put on your high heels, do simple stretching of your leg muscles.
- Remember the higher the heels you are on, the more negative impact it will be on your body. As a general rule of thumb, keep to 2-inch high-heeled shoes.
- Always buy your high heels in the afternoon when your feet are at the largest. So that when your legs expand, the shoe size is just nice and over-cramping of your toes can be avoided.
- As much as possible, do not go for high heels with the pointed-toe design. This lowers the risk of developing bunions.
- Get shoes which come with leather insole to prevent the foot from slipping.
- You will definitely love this last tip, buy a variety choices of shoes so that you can vary your footwear on daily basis.