Are High Heels Bad for Your Body?

By Owner and Physiotherapist Deb Treloar

These days there is a lot of attention given toward maintaining good health. We are advised to eat the right foods, limit things like sugar, salt and animal fats, avoid smoking, drink alcohol only in moderation, exercise and get enough sleep to keep us healthy and happy. But somehow high heel shoes seem to have managed to avoid the ‘dangerous for your health’ list. Enclosing your feet in something that squeezes the forefoot and then guides your toes into a pointed, narrow toe box seems counterintuitive. Especially since a high heel completely alters how your body weight goes through your foot as you walk. When we put on those high heels we shorten the length of our calf and Achilles tendon so that eventually they won’t lengthen the way they should. It almost seems like a modern form of binding the feet…well maybe not quite that bad.

So is there any proof out there that high heel shoes are bad for your feet? It turns out there is. A recent review of the literature suggests that:

• “High heels reduce muscle pump function.... The continuous use of high heels tends to provoke venous hypertension in the lower limbs and may represent a causal factor of venous disease symptoms.” (Tedeschi et al 2012)

• “Our findings support the premise that wearing high-heeled shoes may be a contributing factor with respect to the development of patellofemoral pain” (Ho et al 2012)

• “The higher peak internal knee abduction moment with increasing heel height suggests greater medial loading at the knee” (Barkema et al 2012) that means the inside of your knee is taking more load with high heels.

• There was an increase in the amount of knee flexion, and hip and knee abductor stress with high heels, which resulted in higher muscle activity and higher forces through the joints. (Simonsen et al 2012)

• “Lower stature with high heels showed higher risk of Low Back Dysfunction than the higher stature with high heels.” (Iqbal et al 2012)

Many foot deformities are caused by muscle imbalances that occur with;

• Poor loading through the foot from poor posture and poor postural control
• Foot wear that does not allow the foot to have normal biomechanics
• Compensations the foot makes to stay on the ground while the body moves above it.

Wearing high heels immediately causes the calf and Achilles complex to operate in a shorter part of its length, which we know is inefficient. Overtime the calf will lose its ability to lengthen sufficiently to allow the heel to reach the ground without some sort of raised heel. This is why some women swear their high heels are so much more comfortable than flat shoes or running shoes. A big part of having appropriate muscle balance in the foot and ankle is having the small muscles in your feet active and strong. When you are in a high heel shoe and the forefoot is not allowed to spread there will likely be less activity in these small muscles as the toes are not free to move. This means that your foot is actually less of a stable platform than it should be.

I know that for many of us, we will still try to put on those high heel shoes for any sort of dressy occasion. So what do we do to allow our feet to survive?

• Exercise your feet: pilates, yoga, and simple foot exercises to keep them strong and the muscles long
• Massage your feet: deep massage will keep the tissues mobile and stimulate circulation
• Use some moisturizing cream to keep the skin supple
• Keep toenails short and keep calluses shaved off
• Spend time in your bare feet and let your feet have some freedom to move