Why are high heels so bad for me when they look so good!
Walking on two legs presents an engineering conundrum. Leonardo da Vinci said that the human body is a marvel of engineering. But he wasn’t taking into account the requirements of the body to cope with high heels!
When we first put one foot to the floor the foot must first of all be supple in order to absorb shock and accommodate changes in terrain, then, when the foot pushes off, the same structures must become rigid to tolerate accelerational forces associated with pushing the foot off the ground.
The arch of the foot must lower slightly to allow shock absorption in the knee and also allowing the lower leg bone (tibia) to rotate correctly under the upper leg bone (femur), which allows the knee to bend. However, if the arch lowers too much, the tibia rotates the opposite direction which causes stress at the knee and eventually can cause knee pain.
The fact is we should not wear shoes – any shoes. They block the proprioception (feedback to the nervous system) from the soles of our feet to our brains. This makes it more difficult to balance the body on the feet and makes walking more demanding on the muscles and joints. You can see from the picture above how the foot is held at an awkward angle on the left in the high heel as opposed to the foot on the right in the boot.
High-heeled shoes alter the ability of the foot bones and joints to adapt quickly to changes in terrain and also they put intense pressure on a small area on the ball of the foot and the base of the toes – where nature never intended you to put your weight. High heels also change the angle of your stance and the way you walk, creating too much forward curve (lordosis) in your low back (lumbar spine) which overloads the facet joints in the low back and can give rise to low back pain.
Each of your feet is made up of 26 major bones, 33 joints, 107 ligaments, and 19 muscles and tendons.
- The foot has to put up with striking the ground an average of 1,800 times for every mile you walk.
- The average person walks around 5 miles per day, which means they take between 8,000 to 10,000 steps per day.
- When you walk, your feet bear the force of one and one-half times your body weight. When you run, this force increases to three to four times your body weight.
When the feet are functioning optimally, they can cope with these forces. When they are crammed into high heels, the forces passing through the joints of the foot are considerably increased. When your body weight is landing on the delicate bases of your toes rather than being evenly distributed to all 26 bones of each foot, you can imagine that it will not take long to cause pain and inflammation to the front of the foot.
It Isn’t Just The Feet That Suffer!
The mid-foot, heel, ankle, knee, hip, mid-back, upper back can all become painful as a result of wearing high heels and even headaches can arise – all from trying to be more elegant by wearing high heels on a regular basis. The foot cannot move properly therefore joints of the lower limb, pelvis and spine cannot stretch out properly and they remain slightly flexed.
Your body, from feet to head, is like a long chain of gears, with connecting muscles, ligaments and tendons, where the functioning of each gear depends on the correct functioning of every other gear. If the joints of your feet don’t work properly because of the strain of wearing high heels, the connecting tissues are forced to compensate. This gives rise to muscle bunching in the spine resulting in pain and in some cases, the compensatory changes can cause the muscles behind your neck to be stiff, putting pressure on nerves that can result in chronic headaches.
Socrates said, “when your feet hurt, you hurt all over.”
Women have approximately four times as many foot problems as men. Wearing high heels is undoubtedly a major reason for this.
Potential Long Term Effects Of Wearing High Heels
Bunions – when the great toe is forced towards the other toes too often by the foot rolling over to the mid line. This causes deformation or dislocation of the joint which can become so painful that you may require corrective surgery. Victoria Beckham, is said to have had an operation to remove bunions caused by years of wearing towering heels. Such surgery involves six to eight weeks of recovery.
Knees - Studies have found that the knee must absorb 23 per cent more force of impact when walking in high-heeled shoes than when walking barefoot. This can result in pain, particularly in the inner side of the knee as the foot rolls towards the midline and increases the pressure on that side of the knee. Studies are still underway to determine whether high heels contribute to osteoarthritis of the knee and hip joints.
Feet - Even a modestly high heel moves the pressure that should be spread evenly across the sole of your foot to a small area on the ball of your foot, creating three to six times more stress on the front of the foot than a flat shoe would. This constant pressure and constriction is responsible for the development of painful callouses and possibly hammer toes (in which the toe becomes permanently bent), painful corns (thickened skin on the “knuckles” of the toes) as well as bunions and neuromas (benign but painful lumps on nerves in the foot).
Leg Muscles - Long term use of high heels are thought to cause shortening of the Achilles Tendon, resulting in more pressure being placed on the ball of the foot. Stretching may help counteract the problem but persistent wearing of shoes does not allow enough time for the muscles to lengthen long enough to keep the pain at bay. In extreme cases, surgery may required to lengthen the Achilles tendon.
What to do?
There is no need to throw away all your high-heeled shoes in a bid to save your feet. You simply need to choose your shoes carefully and alternate between flats and high heels. Wedges and Platform soles may be a good alternative to high, narrow heels. A short, wide heel is actually better for the spine than completely flat shoes!
If you have been wearing high heels for some time, however, all is not lost! The chiropractors at the Avenue Clinic can mobilize and manipulate the foot and ankle joints to free them up and give you stretching exercises to lengthen any shortened muscles. We cannot perform miracles on damaged feet but we can certainly relieve pain and show you how you should be walking and thinking about your feet rather than taking them for granted.