A pair of high heels are a staple of women’s wardrobe. No matter how short or tall, most women love wearing high heels. It is a must-have fashion accessory that can make any outfit stylish. However, do you know that your heels are taking a toll on your feet?
According to a survey, one in ten women wears high heels at least thrice a week, out of which 1/3rd is suffering from a permanent foot injury due to prolonged wear. So, if you’re one of those who love to wear high heels regularly, you should be aware of the health risks associated with the killer heels.
In this guide, we are going to tell why you should say no to those killer high-heels and what you can do to potentially mitigate those effects and take care of yourself and your feet. Without wasting much time, let’s get started.
How heels affect your body posture?
When you wear heels, your body weight transfer to the tiptoes instead of being distributed across your heels, balls of your feet, and toes. As a result, the calf muscles get tightened, the lower back and chest shift forward, and the pressure on the toes increases, which makes it difficult to keep balance. Due to this, you may suffer from back and neck pain, further leading to bad posture.
Dance of Balance: The High Heel Dilemma
Now that we have established the fact that wearing high heels leads to imbalance – let us dive deeper into the issue that comes with these stylish yet problematic heels. Apart from the cost factor, these shoes definitely take a toll on the body parts such as hips, spine, knees, feet, ankles, and more. With time, it could also alter your gait and position.
Whether it is for a quick party, dance, dinner, or workwear, high heels definitely go well with different occasions. When you wear a heel, the body attempts to compensate for this off-kilter heel balance through forward bending or flexing the spine or hips.
In order to maintain balance in the hip, calf, and back, the muscles start getting tense. With time, when this happens in the long-term, it leads to excessive muscle strain and fatigue. Further, wearing heels could lead to bulging and cramping in your calf muscles.
Let us discuss the difference between your body posture when you wear flat shoes or high heels.
Body Posture: High Heels vs. Flat Shoes
|High Heels||Flat Shoes|
|Chest Pushed Forward-Imbalance in Body Gravity||Chest Aligned Normal-Center of Gravity Maintained|
|Lower Back Area Pushed Forward-Spine and Hips Are Misaligned||Fairly Straight Spine-With Normal Curvature|
|Excessive Pressure on the Knees-Strained Calf Muscles||No Excessive Knee Pressure with Relaxed Calf Muscles|
|Enhanced Pressure on your Feet Balls-Downward Force||Even Distribution of your Bodyweight from Heel to Toe of the Feet|
Now that we know the changes in our posture with heels on our feet– let us dive deeper into the changes that affect each and every segment in detail.
Detailed Rundown of Changes Brought by High Heels
Normally, your back is aligned in a soft s-curve that helps with ample shock absorption. It helps reduce any stress on the vertebral column. However, wearing heels might cause flattening of the lumbar spine & posterior displacement in the thoracic spine and head.
High-heeled shoes make you lean in the forward motion. In order to counteract this, the body tries to decrease your forward curve, especially in the lower back area, while keeping you in perfect alignment. However, this might not be possible with high heels in place, and eventually, it leads to back pain & muscle overuse.
Wearing shoes with high heels tend to place an enhanced degree of pressure in the forefoot area. It leads to your body adapting to maintain the balance factor, especially when the lower section of the body leans in the forward direction while compensating with the upper segment and leading to uneven posture.
While wearing a heel every now and then or on special occasions could be perfectly fine, daily use might lead to a range of anatomy changes. Your stilettos might put unwanted stress on your knees and back while the bodyweight shifts in the forward direction.
With time, the calve muscles might shorten & the tendons might thicken. Further, it can lead to spondylolisthesis or even the slipping of a single vertebra onto another. It is especially true for the spine’s lumbar region, where your body weight is concentrated.
Foraminal Stenosis is a condition of the spinal nerve due to the anatomical abnormalities occurring from wearing heels. It tends to reduce the space between one foramina or more. It leads to shooting pains in the lower back area.
Apart from tingling, numbness, spasms, muscle weakness, & cramping, there could be pain that might radiate through your buttocks going all the way down to the legs. Another issue, sciatica, is caused due to the compression caused in the leg’s sciatic nerve. The symptoms associated with this issue sticks to the lower body area.
Weight and Pressure Distribution with High Heels
Now, depending on the height of your heel, the pressure on your forefoot or ball of your feet could easily be determined. When wearing a heel with one-inch height, the pressure on the front foot or ball of your foot is about 22 percent.
However, as the heel height reaches about 2-inches, this pressure factor increases double that of a 1-inch heel while pressurizing your feet by 57 percent the original. Now, if you happen to wear a heel of about 3 inches, the pressure increases by 76 percent.
Now that you know the problem that stems from high heels, here are some daunting things that might happen to your body.
10 Issues that Might Happen to Your Body When Wearing Heels
1-Ankle Injury or Stress Fractures:
While we might assume that wearing heels occasionally might not hurt you, this could be far from the truth. Even when you wear the heel for one minute, or maybe true, you might hurt yourself. As explained earlier, heels are an eminent example of imbalance.
So, in case you happen to step on any pebble, you are just a step away from falling or straining/breaking the structures in and around your ligament. Moreover, it could also lead to a lateral sprain in the ankle.
Although this issue might not be a big one and requires some time to heal, it definitely is painful. It is especially true for people that aren’t actually used to wearing their heels for long hours. Additionally, try practising walking on heels to ensure that you might not have to walk on thin ice.
2-Your Arthritis Might Worsen:
Whether you have arthritis or not, wearing heels can be your way to an arthritic journey. In case you are wearing heels too much but do not have arthritis, you might be affected by the same with time.
Keep in mind that wearing heels regularly can lead to a faster wear out of the cartilage present in the joints. Eventually, this becomes the causal factor for arthritis. And, in case you already suffer from this issue, heels are sure to worsen the situation.
3-Worsen Foot Issues:
In case you already have problems in your feet, such as ingrown toenails, hammertoes, bunions, corns, or more, wearing heels could make things worse for you. Wearing heels for long hours can make your bunions grow & add to the pain factor.
Not just that, you would eventually notice a bumpy formation close to the heel area. It is called calcaneus, and this is when the Achilles tendon gets into the area which shortens the tendon when wearing heels. It makes the bone vulnerable with a bumpy section that is termed as pump bump or Haglund deformity.
4-Pain that Goes Beyond the Feet:
When you wear high heels, the pain doesn’t just remain within your feet. It goes beyond your feet going through the legs and even your lower back area. According to different studies conducted through the years, heels lead to various issues, including Achilles tendinopathies, plantar fasciitis, calf issues, hamstring issues, chronic knee pain, back pain, hip problems, etc.
With time, we notice that the tendons and muscles in your legs start shortening. Next, the pelvis area tilts at the forward angle with a curve taking over the body’s lower back section that becomes exaggerated.
Moreover, the upper half of the body also leans in the backward direction. In practice, heels, when used in the long term, contribute to dysregulation of your digestive tract, back pain, headaches, neck pain, inflammation, and knee pain due to the shortening of buttocks and legs’ tendons.
5-Your Walk Changes:
Given the fact that the way you walk wearing flats is different from the way, you walk wearing the heels, the body’s gravity centre changes. Now, this definitely makes sense given the fact that everything changes for your body.
In order to make sure that this change in the walk doesn’t affect your body, you should get in touch with your local physician to ensure minimal effects on the calf muscles, plantar fascia, hamstrings, as well as Achilles. It will help you restore the way you walk with flat shoes when returning from heel shoes to the normal gait. There is a minimal possibility of injury.
6-Toenails are affected:
There might have been times when you complained of your toenails looking strange due to issues such as fungal infection. Now, this might not worsen when you take proper care of it. However, the problem gets worse when you start spending your day inside close shoes or high heels.
Not just that, your nails might get distorted in the way they grow. You might suffer from ingrown toenails. It might aggravate further when you happen to wear pointy-toe heels regularly.
7-Hammer Toes Issue:
With hammertoes, make sure you wear the most comfortable shoes in hand. When suffering from this issue, it would add to your chance of suffering from corns that would rub against the heels. Now, this might seem problematic, but it is the natural response by your body to protect your skin.
Generally, your skin tried to protect itself by forming calluses or avoiding any potential breakdown or ulcerations. However, with time, these calluses might also become problematic and might be irreversible after some time.
8-Pain in Lower Back:
High heels definitely are an ultimate example of a fashion statement in the present day scenario. They are sexy and chic while upping your overall style quotient. However, stilettos and comfort do not gel well.
Heels fail to provide you with optimum support and lead to unequal weight distribution that might trigger inflammation, soreness, and pain affecting your lower back area.
Another issue of wearing high heels is sore and aggravated calf muscles that could worsen with time. Further, it might lead to problems such as protruding veins that might look appalling but definitely bring in issues such as pain & itching. In case you plan to flaunt a proper set of toned legs, make sure you avoid wearing high heels.
10-Constricted Blood Vessels:
Shoes with high heels generally make you appear thinner and longer. The shape of the heels you wear tends to squeeze your foot into a position that definitely isn’t natural. This position is not at all comfortable. This added stress on the feet can lead to a constricted blood flow to your feet and surrounding areas. In case the condition worsens, it could cause issues that would lead to the blood vessels breaking down.
Dealing with the Pressure: Solutions to High Heels
Ideally, you must try and avoid situations where you would want to wear high heels. However, try and keep this to a minimum to ensure that your body doesn’t have to deal with unnecessary pressure. To keep the pressure to a minimum, try to consider these tips to drastically bring down the damaging effects that stem from high heels instead of avoiding them completely.
- Avoid wearing heels for a longer time period
- Try to set the heel limit to 2-inches maximum
- Stretch your leg muscles before and after wearing them
- Purchase your heels only in the afternoon; this is when the feet are at their largest size
- Do not opt for heels with a pointed toe
- Try to keep your heel choice variable to help your feet relax now and then
- Opt for heels with comfy leather insoles that avoid any slipping issues
Keeping the Heels Safer & Wearable
Apart from the pointers mentioned above, you could also try these options to keep things comfortable and healthy for your feet, legs, back, and more. You can keep up the style quotient & gain a couple of inches without actually suffering any major consequence.
In case you are obsessed with adding high heels to your wardrobe, make sure you select a pair of heels that feature a platform design as opposed to a pointed one. These heel-types offer a look similar to the pointed heels. However, they help raise the foot’s ball area while minimizing any overall pressure.
A 3-inch heel with 1-inch of a platform tends to feel more like 2 inches while keeping the height factor as it is.
2-Select a Comfortable Brand:
Given the fact that footwear has become a fashion statement with so much prominence, you get a range of options available for you to choose from. You could get to choose from comfortable brand types by investing in comfy heels, stylish pumps, and more without actually wrecking your feet.
Make sure you keep in mind that comfort always comes at a price tag, but it sure is worth those extra bucks given the fact that you avoid foot pain, back pain, and all the issues mentioned above.
3-Opt for Orthopedic Pads:
In case your favourite heels do not pack in proper support, try to add some orthopedic pads/insoles. Given the fact that heels might be pretty hard to accommodate insoles, try to find those thin gel pads that work wonders. They sure are small but do give you optimum support and change the way you walk and add to the comfort factor.
The bottom line
We agree that there isn’t any substitute for the way your heels make you look so sleek and stylish when you flaunt them. However, if your day-long excursion wearing heels tend to leave you tired and sore, it sure is time to replace those heels with something that is way more comfortable.
A lifetime worth of sore ankles and knee pain isn’t worth an uncomfortable pair of heels. Try to reduce those hours you spend wearing your favourite heels & do try these comfort tips to be stylish & pain-free at the same time!
Brandon R. Katz is a registered professional nurse who has been instrumental in providing us with an informed opinion on the medical aspects of footwear. He graduated from NYU Rory Meyers College of Nursing with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) and currently provides his services at a non-federal long-term care hospital in Brooklyn, NY.
Brandon proves to be the champion in the group of expert writers with his in-depth knowledge in foot health, how to take care of it adequately, and what shoes, socks, or insoles will be supreme for you. He has previously worked with hospitals where he has foreseen both inpatient and outpatient departments and has been a practicing nurse since 2009.
Brandon hails from Jersey City, NY, and has a loving family of four with a small popper called Rozo. His decision to become a nurse arises from the desire to be in the position of helping and rehabilitating people.