High Heels: High-Fashion or High-Risk?

February 9, 2012

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Let’s face it: a great pair of high heels is stylish and they really do complete an outfit.  However, the reality is that the foot was not designed to be in permanent arched position while walking.  The effect that high heels have on the body was examined in a study done by researchers at Griffith University in Queensland, Australia.  Nine women were selected who had worn high heels for at least 40 hours a week for at least 2 years, as well as a control group of 10 women who rarely wore heels.  They were asked to walk along a walkway with pressure sensors that measured the forces exerted while walking. The control group walked barefoot and the test group walked once with heels on and again barefoot.  Also, probes were used to measure the length of their calf muscle fibers.  It was observed that the high-heel wearers walked with a different gait than the control group, even when walking barefoot.  Their leg strides were shorter and more forceful.  The result of this was shortened muscle fibers in their calves and increased strain on the muscles.  The difference between walking with high heels and walking flat footed is that wearing high heels engages mostly muscle, while barefoot walking engages more of the Achilles tendon. 

So, what’s the problem?  The main concern with frequent heel wearing is that your body will adapt to this position.  Your muscles and tendons have a different default position than when you walk in flat shoes.  So when you switch to flat sneakers to work out, for example, your risk of a strain injury is increased.  The bottom line: it’s your decision what kind of shoes you choose to wear.  However, in order to reduce your risk of injury, you may consider lowering the frequency that you wear high heels to maybe once or twice a week instead of everyday.  High heels are certainly stylish and there’s no need to eliminate them from your ensemble.  Maybe just alternate with a cute pair of flats.

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