by Kimberly Allen RN
Back when I got out of high school, platform shoes were the “in” thing. I had a pair but I didn’t wear them a lot – it was too hard to walk on them. Today as I walk around in my comfortable flat sandals, I look around at the women and girls wearing high heels (even for casual events like grocery shopping) and wonder, “How can they wear those everyday?” It’s not just women in the US either – it’s a global phenomenon that can have a significant impact on women’s health. In recent years, as wearing heels for an evening out has gone to part of the everyday wardrobe, there have been more studies on the long term effects of wearing heels. These studies have shown that even if you wear heels for a fairly short amount of time it can have some significant effects on your body.
The feet are the first to be affected, and frequently they are affected the first time you wear high heeled shoes. The first effect of high heels? Pain. Most women have feet that are just killing them, yet they smile and walk on in their heels. It’s a fact that women have four times more foot problems than men and high heels are the main reason. There are numerous problems that can develop in your feet besides pain. The weight forced on your toes can cause you to develop bony growths at the base of your big toe called bunions. These bunions cause your big toe to turn inward toward the rest of your toes. Most women develop thick areas of skin that are called “corns” where their feet rub against their shoes. Wearing heels can also cause damage to the nerves in the middle of the foot causing the tissues to thicken which then causes pain and numbness. Another common problem is the “pump bump”. This bump is a bony growth on the heel that develops from the constant pressure as well as the friction from the stiff backs.
Wearing high heels also significantly increases your risk of ankle injuries and the higher the heel the higher your risk for injury. High heels alter your gait and interfere with your balance making it more difficult to walk. This increases your risk for falls or tripping, which in turn causes sprains, strains and even broken bones. Then after your ankle comesyour legs and knees that also suffer from heels. The most common problem is the shortening of the achilles tendon and the calf muscles. As the tendons are responsible for most of the spring action needed to walk, a number of problems can develop. After a while you’ll notice that walking without heels is painful. Then we get to the knees. When you wear high heels, you put more pressure on your knees, especially on the inner portion of the knee. This increases your risk for osteoarthritis in your knees. While walking in heels may make you feel more confident and sexy, walking in them also changes your body mechanics, forcing your body to compensate to prevent falling. Walking in heels causes your pelvis to rotate forward altering the natural curve of your lower back causing significantly increased pressure on your lumbar spine which in turn leads to numerous back problems. Your hips also have problems due to walking in high heels because the small muscles of the hip joint have to work harder to compensate for the lower legs’ inability to function efficiently.
For those of you that aren’t willing to give up your heels, there are a few things you can do to keep the damage to a minimum. First of all, limit the amount of time you wear heels to a maximum of 2-3 times a week. Take them off whenever possible, like when you’re sitting at a desk. Also, exercise your calf muscles when sitting. If you have to wear heels, wear the wedge style instead of the stiletto type as the wedges not only provide more support but they also doesn’t allow the amount of lateral movement that stilettos do. When you go shopping for shoes, go at the end of your day as your feet tend to swell as the day goes on, making your feet a little bigger than in the morning. This will ensure a more comfortable fitting shoe.
Many Drs are strongly against wearing heels at all, but if you really need those stilettos save them for a special occasion and wear flats or low heels for the grocery store.
Kimberly Allen is a registered nurse with an AND in nursing. She has worked in ACF, LCF and psychiatric facilities, although she spent most of her career as a home health expert. She is now a regular contributor to HealthAndFitnessTalk.com, dispensing advice and knowledge about medical issues and questions. You can reach her with any comments or questions at HYPERLINK “mailto:email@example.com” firstname.lastname@example.org.