Even though celebs and models alike have thrown out their heels and embraced white sneakers, many are still opting for Louboutins for work and play. And let’s face it – they do look great and give us shorties a boost of confidence, but wearing heels on a regular basis can place a lot of pressure on our spinal and lower limb joints and increases the risk of both acute and chronic injuries.
The alignment of our spine, in particular the lower back, is thrown out of whack when wearing high heels. By pushing our weight forward, so the ankle joint is above the toes, our pelvis falls into an anterior tilt and increases the lordosis through our lumbar spine – think over exaggerated curve in the lower back. Standing in this particular posture for a prolonged time has been shown to be a risk factor for developing lower back pain and worsening already existing lower back pain. Considering a lot of women stand in this posture to begin with, wearing heels will only accentuate that curvature.
When wearing heels, especially sky high ones, more pressure is placed through the forefoot (ball of the foot) rather than being evenly distributed between the three compartments of the foot. Prolonged pressure through the forefoot can lead to pain through the base of the toes.
Have you ever squeezing your feet into shoes that are too small? This is a big no no. Ill-fitting heels can cause the toes to curl up and increase the pressure to be placed on the top surface of the foot. Over a period of time this can lead to a permanent bending of the toes or thickening of the skin (a.k.a. painful corns). Thickening of the skin and bone can also been seen at the back of the heel with continued rubbing and irritation from straps – ouch!
Ever feel like Bambi walking in heels? That’s because in heels we have less surface area of our foot in contact with the ground, therefore our balance will be compromised. This is particularly a problem in those with previous ankle injuries, whose ligaments tend to lose their proprioceptive (feedback to the brain) ability post injury and the dynamic muscles of the ankle tend to lose their strength.
Prolonged wear of heels place the calf muscles in a shortened position, this means that they don’t get much of a chance to stretch out, and this can reduce flexibility of the muscle tissue and tendons. When you then get out of heels and wear shoes with a smaller heel pitch, e.g. running shoes, the calf is inflexible and therefore more susceptible to injury.
Being in heels throws the body weight forward which can increase pressure through the inside compartment of the knee and the knee cap joint. This can cause pain and long term biomechanical problems.
Felicity Dan is The Pilates Physio – expert in all things health, exercise and injury. Felicity holds a Bachelor of Physiotherapy and further qualifications in the areas of Pilates, Women’s Health and Sports. After a strong career as a Physiotherapist in professional Rugby Union, Felicity discovered the benefit of specific and individualised exercise programs in managing musculoskeletal injuries. A focus on Pilates based exercises underpins her approach to the treatment of her patients. Felicity owns and runs a boutique Pilates studio, The Physio&Pilates Co. in Newcastle, NSW.