Why do you need to be careful wearing heels?
When wearing heels, your feet are on a “ramp”. This means that more body weight is put through the balls of your feet with downward pressure. As your body weight is moved forward, the upper body has to compensate by leaning back and putting pressure through your back muscles, like the erector spinae and quadratus lumborum. Prolonged time wearing heels can lead to the back muscles fatiguing and perhaps strain, which can lead to injury.
Let’s have a look at some of the parts of the body that are affected by heels:
FEET: The higher the pair of heels, the more pressure placed through balls of your feet. Increasing heel height from 1 to 3inches increases this pressure from 22% to 76%! This means your toes can be squashed in this position for a long time, which can lead to ingrown toenails, bunions, blisters, hammer toes (contracture of toes 2-5) or a neuroma (thickening of nerve tissue).
ANKLES/CALVES: prolonged use of heels can lead to stiffness through the Achilles tendons as your calves are in a shortened position. This explains the feeling of tight calves when taking the heels off after a long night or day. This puts you at greater risk of calf injury, so try and kick your heels off and stretch out your calves.
KNEES: The change of position at your feet and ankles puts increased pressure through your knees (especially the inside). This can lead to greater risk of osteoarthritis.
LOW BACK: Due to shift forward of your centre of gravity, your back extensor muscles will constantly be on in order to maintain your balance as your hips and spine will not be in optimal alignment. Anyone with lower back pain should be careful of standing too long in heels as their back muscles will get fatigued and risk bringing on lower back pain due to compensations mentioned above. This can lead to entrapment of nerves with symptoms of sciatica. The key is to sit down for muscle rest breaks.
HANDY HINTS WHEN WEARING/BUYING HEELS
· Limit heel height or try wearing a wedge/platform to decrease the angle of the foot
· Make sure shoes are the right size. It is better to shop for shoes in the afternoon when the feet have a little swelling from the day
· Buy an open toe shoe – these allow for more space for the toes
· Buy shoes with leather insoles to prevent the foot from slipping. This will also reduce the impact on the knees and other weight-bearing joints
· Buy a wide variety of shoes to vary your footwear day to day. This helps prevent the body from forming bad habits
· Wear heels on days where you are less likely to be doing much walking
· Stretch! Especially focus on your calf muscles and feet
· Wear flat shoes to work and change into the beautiful heels for the Xmas party
· Often during pregnancy a little heel or wedge will actually be helpful in preventing back pain!!!
Adapted from articles on:
The Spine Institute, Women’s Health Magazine, CAA & NIB