Can high heels damage my body?
Our footwear and what we wear to work has again been in the news following a recent report that stated the government must enforce the law to ban sexist dress rules at work. This followed a parliamentary petition highlighting the experience of London receptionist Nicola Thorpe, who was sent home from work in December 2015 for not wearing high heels. Nicola was told by her employment agency that she had to wear shoes that had a heel between 2 and 4 inches. She argued that wearing them all day would be bad for her feet, and that her male colleagues were not asked to follow the same rule on clothes. When she refused she was sent home without pay.
So what is the problem with high heels?
High heels are the shoes with the worst reputation for causing musculoskeletal aches and pains. When we wear heels the pressure is concentrated on the front of the foot and can put added pressure on both the ball and toes. This can lead to pressure on the nerves and lead to conditions such as Morton Neuroma or Hammer toe which is a deformity of the 2nd, 3rd or 4th toe.
When wearing heels, the ankle is permanently raised which holds the calf muscles in a contacted position leading to a shortening of the Achilles tendon. For some this can lead to permanent shortening with the wearer losing the ability to walk bare foot.
Wearing heels can also cause problems with your posture. When wearing heels, the hips are positioned slightly forward and the back is arched which increases the compressive force on the spine. Low back paraspinal muscle activity also increases which can significantly increase discomfort and fatigue and increased likelihood of developing low back pain. Wearing heels regularly also increases the chance of osteoarthritis as it changes the body’s line of gravity. Instead of force going safely through the middle of our knee joints down to the ground, the forces are off centre, putting strain on our joints and putting then at risk.
What can I do?
If you don’t want to give up high heels then one solution is to choose a lower, chunkier, more supportive heel.
Exercises can also help to strengthen the feet and make them more capable of standing pressure. Try rolling a ball on the underside of your feet to stretch; crumpling a tissue with your toes for mobility and strength; and try regular calf stretches at the wall.