High heels are a fashion staple. Many women wear them on a regular basis, and even if they don’t, it’s a safe bet that nearly all women wear them at one point or another. Is wearing them and being fashionable worth it?
Obviously what we wear on our feet affects how our bodies move. For example, people who run barefoot are more likely to run on the balls of their feet, while people who wear sneakers will strike their heel first. But few other shoes will affect our feet and our bodies the way that high heels do.
According to a recent review of the literature on footwear, walking in heels can “alter the natural position of the foot-ankle complex, and thereby produce a chain reaction of effects that travel up the lower limb at least as far as the spine.”
It’s clear that the feet of women who wear heels regularly are different from those who do not, but progression of changes has not been well documented. So a new study out of Hanseo University in Korea and published in The International Journal of Clinical Practice tracked young women in school studying to be flight attendants (these students are required to wear heels everyday)! With each passing year, from freshmen to seniors, the women would have one additional year of heel-wearing behind them, making it easy to track changes.
Researchers invited 10 women from each class to the lab and tested their balance as well as their ankle strength. The results were interesting. Compared to the freshmen, who were generally new to wearing heels, the sophomores and juniors displayed greater strength in many muscles stabilizing the ankle joint. This led researchers to believe that wearing high heels can increase ankle strength. But then they looked at the seniors…
The senior women, who had been wearing heels the longest, showed weakening of those very same muscles, as well as much weaker muscles running up the front and back of the ankle. They also displayed dramatically worse balance. In fact, all the upperclasswomen had worse balance than the freshman, even as some of their muscles appeared to be strengthening. These muscle and postural imbalances create instability in the ankle joint, which are known to increase injury risk in other muscle groups such as those in the upper leg, pelvis, and lower back. The poor posture also leads to spinal misalignment, increased lordosis in the lower back, and nerve pressure (which can cause pain).
So what should you do about it? Of course, remove your heels if you're sitting at your desk and never run in heels for starters. Some health professionals say that doing heel lifts and drops (exercises standing on the edge of a step where you raise up on your toes and then drop down) will help with that muscle instability. As chiropractors focused on NeuroStructural correction, we recommend keeping those hips and spine in alignment so your body can best handle the stress from wearing heels. Our goal is to keep your health and posture in check while you stay fashionable!