The latest order of the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) disallowing mandatory use of high heeled shoes in the workplace made me curious about its ill effects. After all, during my corporate years, high heels were common among us women. I decided to scour the internet for articles on how high-heeled shoes affect one’s health and posture.
Wearing high heeled shoes once in a while for special occasions like weddings and formal meetings will not do much damage but consistently wearing them will have a bearing on the body.
The healthiest body is one that maintains a fairly straight line from head to toe. When you are barefooted or wearing flat shoes, the spine is straight. Your body weight is evenly distributed on your feet. The calves are relaxed because the feet take all the weight.
On the other hand, high heels shift the body weight forward towards the toes. In this article, Dr. Surve, an associate professor at the University of North Texas Health Science Center Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine, says, “From an osteopathic perspective, we’re looking for the body to be centered from head to toe. High heels put the foot at an angle and pull muscles and joints out of alignment, so the effects aren’t limited to the feet. It’s not unusual for people who spend lots of time in high heels to have low back, neck and shoulder pain because the shoes disrupt the natural form of the body.”
A very useful infographic done by The Spine Health Institute shows different statistics about women wearing high heels as well as its effect on the body. Below is a part of that infographic. The full infographic can be found HERE.
What is the effect of long-term wearing of high heels on the body?
High heels have an effect on our back, posture, and anatomy, and may cause some medical conditions.
On back – Our spine’s normal S-curve acts as a shock absorber when we walk, reducing stress on the vertebrae. High heels make the wearer lean forward. The body responds is to decrease the forward curve of the lower back to keep the wearer in line. Eventually, this leads to muscle overuse and lower back pain.
On posture – High heels transfer body weight to the forefoot, making the body adjust to maintain balance. Your natural stride becomes a staccato walk. The shift of weight towards the toes, plus the toe squeeze brought on by pointy shoes, can result in blisters and ingrown toenails, to say the least.
On anatomy – Constant use of high heels will eventually cause permanent anatomical changes to one’s body. Stress on the back and knees will happen as body weight shifts forward. Calves and tendons may thicken. Ankles also bend forward, restricting circulation in the limbs, eventually leading to spider veins. Those who love wearing stilettos most of the time will eventually find it painful to wear flats because their ankle and calf tendons would have become taut and short.
On medical conditions – A condition called spondylolisthesis, or slippage of one vertebrae forward over another, could happen especially in the lumbar region of the spine. A spinal nerve condition called Foraminal Stenosis could also occur. Some symptoms of this condition include shooting pains, numbness, tingling, muscle weakness, spasms, cramping and pain radiating from buttocks down to the legs. These lower-body symptoms are often referred to as sciatica. Osteoarthritis in one’s senior years could come from the constant stress that high heels place on the inner sides of the knees.
Actually, it is not the height of the footwear that is more dangerous to our health and posture but the slope. I took pictures of two of my shoes.
The closed shoe’s height from floor to top is almost the same as my platform slip-ons. But why is it that my feet only hurt with the closed shoes and not with my flipflops? For one, my toes are squeezed in an unnatural form by the pointy front. Second, the high heels and low front create a steep slope for my feet. Compare that with my platform slip-ons.
Notice that the platform is thick from front to back, making the slope of my feet almost as natural as wearing low-heeled shoes. That’s why my platform slip-ons are very comfortable even after hours of standing or walking. Of course, it also helps that my feet can move and breathe freely. That is another point for open-toed, low-heeled shoes.
Okay, some of you really cannot help wearing high heels. Sometimes it is really required by the occasion or your job. Here are some tips to minimize the negative effects:
1. Try to limit the height of your shoes to 2 inches. If you have to wear higher heels, limit the period of time.
2. In high heels, give your feet a break. Remove your shoes discreetly every so often to allow your feet to breathe. Flex them and make circles with your feet, clockwise and counterclockwise. This will minimize that feeling of stiffness and unnatural walking when you remove your shoes at the end of the day.
3. The wise advice I’ve heard before — to buy shoes in the afternoon or evening instead of first thing in the morning — is worth heeding. Feet expand with time so they are larger in the afternoon. You are likely to buy shoes that fit better.
4. Don’t buy pointed shoes (one of my wrong decisions!)
5. Buy footwear with different heel heights and types.
6. Choose footwear brands that consider the ergonomics of shoes and different foot sizes. One brand that I can recommend you check out is Bata shoes. They recently launched their Insolia line of high-heeled shoes that incorporates technology which specifically addresses the usual concerns with high heels. Read that post here.