The verdict on high heels

It is truly amazing what we are prepared to do to ourselves in the name of looking good. Having poison injected into our face, injecting substances into our lips, and waxing where the sun doesn’t shine are just the beginning. It is no surprise then that women (mostly) have been prepared to wear high heels in pursuit of a sexier gait. There has always been conjecture as to just how much damage high heels do but now that has been quantified.

It has been thought for a long time that high heels damage more than your floorboards. Women will usually heave a sigh of relief when they are able to take the heels off and since high heeled shoes push the wearers own heels up, it has been thought they may cause problems for the calf muscles.

To test this some researchers compared a group of women aged between 20 and 50 who had regularly worn five centimetre heels for two years or more, to a group of women who never wore high heels.

The next step was to measure the calf muscles and associated tendons using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Since the calves of high heel wearers are put into a shortened position it was suspected that the calves would have shortened permanently. Surprisingly the muscles of both groups showed a muscle volume that was about the same, but that is not all that was found.

Ultrasound was used to measure the length of muscle fibres in the calf muscles of both groups. Those women who wore high heels had fibres that were thirteen per cent shorter than those who wore flat shoes. By putting the muscle in a shortened position on a regular basis the fibres had eventually been made shorter. This means that the calf muscles cannot function normally when out of high heels and would produce less force when they contract.

Then using MRI again the researchers examined the Achilles tendon of the women and found that it was the same length in the two groups. So in the high heel wearers, the tendon had not lengthened to compensate for the shorter muscle fibres. However, in high heel wearers the Achilles was much thicker and stiffer . This would allow the women to walk in high heels but causing discomfort when walking on flat feet as the tendon cannot stretch sufficiently.

For those of you (gals and guys) who like to don the stilettos on a Saturday this means there is no real problem (physically). If you wear high heels every day however, a good stretching regime for your lower leg might be what you need to walk without pain when you kick off those heels come the end of the work day.

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The WellBeing Team

The WellBeing Team

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