My face met the ground the first time I wore heels. Ok, maybe that was bit of an exaggeration. I didn’t exactly fall but I came pretty close. I wonder what went wrong. Could it possibly have been the height? No, they were only 3 inches. Despite how “low” I thought the heel was, research has shown, as the heel’s height increases, so does the increased amount of pressure on the forefoot (ball of foot). For example:
1-inch = 22%
2-inches = 57%
3-inches = 76%.
Can you imagine if I wore 6 inch heels?
In a survey of 100 women, 26 said they never wore heels; 74 wore them at some point in their lives. Although it has been shown over a 30 year span, less women are wearing heels today (40%) than in the 1980’s (60%); more younger women (ages 18-25) wear high heels (50%) compared to those in their 50’s and up (35%). I found this survey very interesting. The point is most women wear heels and this practice, although declining in comparison to earlier years, is still ever present.
Recall the old adage: “Form follows function”. This was a principle associated with architecture. It states that the shape of an object should be based on its intended function or purpose. Think of it this way, high heels cause muscles in the leg to become fatigued or function abnormally for long periods of time. One may develop “form” issues in the sense of poor posture, stress on the back of the knees, shortened calf muscles, or even spine problems over time.
Let’s Review Some Anatomy (And How High Heels Affect Them):
- Feet: The feet can be considered the base or foundation of the body’s skeleton. For those home builders out there, you may know, if you don’t have a good foundation, that house is subject to unevenness and instability. In the foot, joints become unsteady, arthritic, and painful which can lead to bunions and hammertoes.
- Calf muscle: The calf muscle or Gastrocnemius-Achilles tendon unit is one of the strongest muscle-tendons in the body. It helps one during push off and the propulsive phase of gait (walking). It works best when it is elongated and freely glides. Wearing high heels can shorten this muscle-tendon unit over time, which can lead to problems when walking barefoot or in other shoes. You might be enjoying those compliments of how nice your legs look from behind, but they may be costly in the long run.
- Knees: Wearing high heels shift the knees forward, thus straining the back of the knees and hamstrings. The knee joint itself may develop arthritis over time.
- Hips: As the center of gravity continues to shift forward, the hips become affected and can throw off one’s posture. Many thigh muscles originate from the hips and control how one stands, walks, or runs.
- Back: As the knees and hips move forward, the back compensates by hyperextending backwards. Sure this will back your derriere look nice (hence, the cat calls again); however, this may lead to back soreness, spasms, and eventually spinal issues.
Am I saying, “Don’t EVER wear heels”? No. But, I think the best patient is a well-informed patient. Dr. Bridget Moore gave some excellent tips in our last blog (6 Tips to Save Your Feet When Wearing High Heels) for all you brave souls. Would I wear them again? Sure. Knowing what I know now, I think I will stick with a lower heel.
Heather Driessen, DPM
The Foot Institute