Women love wearing high heels and men love seeing women wear them, that`s a proven fact. I`m sure that some of you might not agree with me on this, but the latest results from a study conducted by American Podiatric Medical Association showed that 49% of adult US women wear high heels and a whopping 71% continue to wear them despite the foot pain these shoes are causing them 1!
The study also showed, however, that women don`t wear them that often. In fact, only 5% wear them five days a week, which is a good thing since wearing heels on a daily basis can lead to foot pain, structural and anatomical problems which we will discuss later on.
Where Did High Heels Come From – The History
Did you know that the very first high heels were worn by men, and not just any men – the fearsome Persian horseman warriors 2! Yeah, try walking up to one of them and say “High heels are for women”… it would probably be the very last thing you`d say 🙂
Unlike today, high heeled shoes were practical for the middle eastern horse riders since they allowed them to stand up in their stirrups and secure their stance so they could fire their arrows more effectively, according to Elizabeth Semmelhack of the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto.
At the end of the 16th and at the beginning of the 17th century, Persians were sending diplomatic missions to the courts of medieval Europe where the aristocrats adopted this new style of shoes.
At first, shoes with heels were only popular among aristocrats but they were soon adopted by the lower ranks of society. Aristocracy responded by increasing the height of their heels and high heel was born.
They were popular up until mid 18th century when people turned to functionality, but made a comeback in the mid 19th century and have been with us ever since.
Foot Position When Wearing Heels
Unfortunately, we are witnessing a trend in footwear where the heels are getting higher and higher, making them more and more uncomfortable for those who wear them. And, before we start discussing all the problems they can cause, I think it would be a good idea to take a look at this video from the UK`s Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital and see just how the foot is positioned within a shoe with high heels:
Pain, Foot Damage And Long-Term Effects
Now that you saw the exact position of the foot inside the shoe, it is time to discuss some of the problems associated with wearing high heels for longer periods of time.
Ingrown Toenails – according to some research, high heels are the leading cause of ingrown toenails! The shoe will compress the toenail and force it to grow into the skin, while more severe cases can also involve an infection.
Bunions – bunion is a bony deformity at the base of the big toe joint which can change the shape of the foot, cause pain and tenderness 3. Even though bunions are often linked to high heels, they are not caused by them. According to the latest study 4, big toe deformities are “highly heritable in white men and women.” But even though bunions are genetic, wearing high heels will make the pain worse.
Postural Changes – this is one of the biggest concerns and problems associated with this type of footwear. Wearing high heels will shift your center of gravity and make your body less stable. It will “flatten” your lower back forcing your body to lean forward, causing muscle overuse and back pain 5.
Anatomical Changes – according to a recent study, wearing high-heeled shoes long-term will induce shortening of the calf muscles, increase the stiffness in Achilles tendon and reduce ankle`s range of motion 6.
Knee Osteoarthritis – walking on high-heeled footwear will change the dynamics of walking and put additional pressure to the knee joint. This added pressure can lead to the degenerative processes in the knee (breakdown of the cartilage) and result in osteoarthritis 7.
Should You Give Up On Your Heels Altogether?
Of course not, this is a bit too drastic. You should just make smarter choices when it comes to your footwear. We have a few tips to set you on the right track:
- Go for shorter heels – choose shoes with low heels – up to 1,5 inches. Also, it would be a good idea to try and find thicker heels as they will provide you with better support
- Wear insoles – soft insoles will make you feel more comfortable and relief pressure off your feet and knees. You don`t have to buy “full sized” insoles, instead you can invest a bit of money in metatarsal insoles – for the ball of your feet
- Right size – wearing shoes that are slightly larger might allow your foot to slide forward and put even more pressure on your toes
- Stretch – it is a good idea to stretch your calf muscles and your feet any chance you get, especially if you are “forced” to wear high heels
- Bring an extra pair of shoes with you – of course, there will be those special moments when you will want to wear high heels. In this case, try to limit the time you spend standing up and make sure you bring an extra pair of comfortable shoes you can put on afterwards
- (May 19, 2014.). New Study Shows High Heels Are Biggest Culprit Of Female Foot Pain, American Podiatric Medical Association. Retrieved from http://www.apma.org/Media/PRdetail.cfm?ItemNumber=13076
- Kremer, William. (January 25, 2013.). Why Did Men Stop Wearing High Heels?, BBC News. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-21151350
- (November 1, 2012.). Bunions, National Health Service. Retrieved from http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/bunion/Pages/Introduction.aspx
- Marian T. Hannan, Hylton B. Menz, Joanne M. Jordan, Adrienne Cupples, Chia-Ho Cheng, Yi-Hsiang Hsu. (August 26, 2013.). High Heritability of Hallux Valgus and Lesser Toe Deformities in Adult Men and Women, Arthritis Care And Research, Volume 65, Issue 9, Pages 1515-1521. Retrieved from http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/acr.22040/abstract;jsessionid=9F2DBF1CF4E6FECD9CB4BE0D5FC8AC3F.f04t04
- How High Heels Affect Your Body, Spine Health Institute. Retrieved from http://www.thespinehealthinstitute.com/news-room/health-blog/how-high-heels-affect-your-body
- R. Csapo, C. N. Maganaris, O. R. Seynnes, M. V. Narici. (April 26, 2010.). On Muscle, Tendon and High Heels, The Journal Of Experimental Biology. Retrieved from http://jeb.biologists.org/content/213/15/2582.long
- (May 9, 1998.). Knee Osteoarthritis And High-Heeled Shoes, The Lancet, 351, Pages 1399-1401. Retrieved from http://faculty.ksu.edu.sa/68417/osteoarthritislibrary/Shared%20Documents/PIIS0140673697112818.pdf