Have you ever seen the “Popeye” cartoon when Popeye asks for Olive Oyl’s skate size so he can take her skating, and she replies “I take a three and a half, but an eight feels so good”? I can’t help thinking of this scene every time I squeeze into my favorite pair of heels. Women wear high heels for any number of reasons, whether to look taller, to accent the shape of their legs, or to experience the surge of power associated with the click-click of heels on tile. I’m particularly guilty of this last one; I always wear heels on the first day of a new semester because My logic is that it will intimidate my students more if I can glare down at them from an impressive height. It never works, but I continue to use the theory to rationalize shoe-shopping as a work expense.
Here’s the thing though. I’ve never owned a perfectly comfortable pair of heels, nor has any woman I know. Yet these persistent purchases speak to the saying that being beautiful is hard work. The truth is that research continually tells us that we’re doing our feet no favors when we wear heels, and here are five reasons why.
1. Wearing heels can cause arthritis
When we think about wearing heels, we think about aching feet and blisters, but ladies, have you thought about what bearing the burden of beautiful shoes does to your knees? A Harvard study found that wearing two-inch heels places 23 % more strain on the inner knee than wearing flats. This strain pushes the knee forward to accommodate the pressure needed to keep women balanced when they walk or stand. This research suggests that wearing heels contributes at least partially to the fact that women are twice as likely as men to develop osteoarthritis in their knees. Aside from the fact that this finding points to a troubling implication about the stress that beauty standards put on women’s bodies, the price of a pair of stilettos doesn’t seem worth the price of knee surgery does it?
2. Wearing heels can damage leg and foot muscles
When you wear high heels, the shoe points the heel of the foot in an unnaturally upward position, which shortens the Achilles tendon—a band of muscles at the base of the calf. The shortening of this tendon as well as the shortening of other calf muscles can cause chronic leg pain and muscle spasms. According to osteopathic physician Dr. Natalie A. Nevins, the tightening of these muscles can also cause plantar fasciitis, the inflammation of a band of muscles in the bottom of the foot called the plantar fascia. If you must wear heels (as one in ten women do at least three times a week) doctors recommend switching to flats at some point in the day because the long-term tightening of foot and leg muscles, which makes stretching them more difficult, can eventually cause wearing flats to become uncomfortable as well.
3. Wearing heels can cause sciatica
Since wearing heels requires you to shift your body weight to accommodate the tilting of the foot, the arching of your back and pelvis puts pressure on lower back muscles. According to Dr. Carrie Bowler, women who wear high heels frequently suffer from sciatica—chronic leg pain or numbness that can make standing, sitting, or walking extremely uncomfortable and even excruciatingly painful. “As muscles in the groin and hip flexors tighten,” says Bowler, “lower back and gluteal muscles compensate and can go into chronic spasm, creating pressure on the sciatic nerve.”
4. Wearing heels can strain your neck
Dr. Bowler also points out that the altered posture you have to adopt to accommodate wearing heels can cause just as much damage to your upper body as your lower body. “An overarched back,” she says, “can cause a forward head posture, which strains neck muscles.” So the next time you slip on a pair of heels and get ready to hold your head high during a big presentation at work, you might do well to keep your feet planted firmly (and flatly) on the ground.
5. Wearing heels can cause bone damage
I’m not just talking about the increased likelihood of breaking your ankle when you’re teetering around town on 4-inch stilettos because of the balance issues we’ve already talked about. According to a report in the Washington Post, podiatrists say that walking too long in heels can cause stress fractures or cracks in the bones of the feet. Again, if you regularly walk long distances or stand for long periods of time throughout the day, occasionally slipping into a pair of flats can help to reduce the strain on the bones of the feet.
In short, if you walk away with one piece of advice from all of this research, be kind to your body the next time you think about pumping up your new outfit with a pair of heels. Your feet work hard to get you where you need to go in life, and they’re the only pair you’ve got. They deserve a rest.
Featured photo credit: Woman’s High-Heeled Shoes via Pixabay.com