Wearing high heels has become almost like a rite of passage for young girls entering adolescence and adulthood. The problem is that this particular fashion trend holds so many negative side effects both immediately and later on in life. As with so many choices we make when we are young, we must often pay the consequences as we age.
Believe it or not, high heels began as a means for wealthy men to protect themselves from the mud and muck on the ground back in the 14th century. Now, women have adopted the trend simply as a fashion statement. While those pretty pumps may make your calves look great, the negative effects may not be worth the looks. So why do high heels get such a bad rap? What problems do they actually cause?
First off, when you stand on your toes and lift your heels off the ground (known as plantarflexion); your ankle is placed in a less stable position which leaves you more prone to spraining the ankle ligaments. This position also places increased stress on the peroneal and lateral gastrocnemius muscles which are located in the calf and help support the outer side of your ankle. If these muscles are already weak, then placing more stress on them by wearing high heels can leave you prone to injuring the muscles. This also leaves you more prone to spraining the ankle ligaments due to having less muscle support to prevent you from “rolling” the ankle.
In addition to ankle injuries, the feet take quite a beating from wearing heels. Due to the effects of gravity, the toes are forced to take an excessive amount of pressure through a typically narrow toe box. The pressure placed on the toes from frequent high heel wearing contributes to hammertoes, bunions, corns, calluses, and toe nail problems. These deformities can become so severe that surgery may be required to realign the joints of the feet.
It is not always the feet and ankles that suffer from the effects of high heels. The back is often involved as well due to changes in standing posture while wearing heels. The back ends up in an extension position (bent backward) which places increased strain on the back muscles and can lead to nerve compression if the position is extreme enough or other preexisting back conditions are present. Due to the changes in posture and pressure while walking in heels, increased torque is placed on the knees. Dr. D. Casey Kerrigan, an engineer and Harvard Medical School graduate, found a direct correlation between knee arthritis and wearing high heels. Another study found that the degree of heel height made a large difference on the amount of stress placed on the body. As heel height increased, the amount of stress on the tibialis anterior (a muscle that assists with supporting the arch of your foot and lifting your ankle upward) and the low back increased, thus increasing a person’s risk for pain in these regions.
I know that heels can be very pretty and make you look more feminine, but it is important to weigh the risks. You might not notice the effects of frequent heel wearing now, but it will likely hit you later in life. Try to save yourself some future pain.