Fashion Pains: High Heel Havoc

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High heels date back to the 9th-century, according to shoe history expert Elizabeth Semmelhack, curator at the Toronto Bata Shoe Museum. At that time they were used for their practicality and not for their appearance; the distance between the front sole of the shoe and the heel was designed to keep horse riders’ feet in stirrups so that they could ride safely and easily. Today however, high heels are primarily a fashion statement and are associated with a certain level of formality. Women old and young sport these shoes, but more and more concerns are being raised about the health effects of these shoes because of the way that they impact the body.

Pain from heels

Effects On Posture

Wearing high heels offsets the body’s natural balance, causing the chest to push forward along with the lower back. As a result, the hips and spine are pushed out of alignment and the butt is shifted outwards. The spine usually has a natural curve that absorbs shock in hopes of reducing stress on the vertebrae. Unfortunately, standing in heels misaligns the spine and prevents the proper cushioning. In some high heel wearers a vertebrae may slip forward over top of another, referred to as spondylolisthesis. Additionally, the position puts strain on the muscles in the back as they must work harder to support the body, which is now leaned forward precariously. Moreover, Wearing heels constantly may lead to discomfort and pain, especially in the lower back and knees. Finally, some people experience changes in the shape of the curve of the spine over time as well.

Effects On The Lower Body

In addition to causing back pain, wearing heels has a number of consequences below the waist. Many people experience osteoarthritis, the most common form of arthritis, in the knee. Women are considered twice as likely to suffer from osteoarthritis in the knee than their male counterparts, and many experts attribute this statistic to high heel wearing. Moreover, wearing high heels limits the mobility of the ankle joint, resulting in a number of other effects. For instance, the Achilles tendon can shorten, along with the calf muscles. The foot itself is also greatly affected since pressure is no longer properly distributed – most of the weight is carried by the ball of the foot when in heels.

Minimizing High Heel Related Strain

If you insist on wearing high heels then you should take certain measures to minimize the negative impacts. Firstly, limit yourself to a maximal heel height of two inches – the higher the heel, the more strain. Moreover, you should avoid wearing them for extended periods of time, especially if you are going to be standing for a large part of that time. You should stretch your calves before and after wearing the shoes, and avoid pairs with pointed toes.

In essence, though high heels may look good, they do pose problems for your body. If you do choose to sport these popular shoes then make sure to take the right precautions to minimize strain.

Dr. Joel Weisberg is the Clinic Director and Principal Doctor at Downsview Chiropractic The difference it makes to a patient when they learn, receive appropriate care, feel cared for, and are empowered to self-manage, is often bigger than the relief they were seeking. Dr. Weisberg is driven to make that difference to people in their pursuit of a life lived well™.