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Why high heels can affect your health

Wearing high heels are elegant, they make us look and feel good but they can also damage our health. Don't be defined by fashion.   2015-08-30

Dress codes at work are often implemented for many reasons; to provide a corporate image, ensure customers can identify the staff and also for health and safety reasons. As a woman wearing high heels for work you may find that not only are safety rules broken but also your health and the way you are perceived by your colleagues may be affected.

Throughout history shoes with heels were worn by both men and women until about 1660. In the late 17th century, men’s shoes tended to be more practical, while women’s shoes became more ornate, with silks, brocades, braids and velvet. However, it was after the 2nd World War that the stiletto heel was created by shoe designer Roger Vivier, working closely with Christian Dior. Since then high heels are an essential part of many women’s wardrobe.

Advantages of wearing heels

Wearing high heels can make you:

  • Look taller – by wearing heels you can help to increase your height. This is helpful if you are short and want  to look taller.
  • More stylish - high heels can make you look stylish. It also attracts attention if this is  what you want.
  • Good body posture – contrary to popular belief, some women state that they get a feeling of having a good posture. Heels give them confidence which shows in the way they carry themselves.  
  • Good looking legs - heels can help enhance the beauty of your legs by making them look longer and shapelier.
  • Complementary to your clothes – wearing heels can improve the total look of your outfit.
  • More appealing to men - in a series of experiments, Nicolas Gueguen (2014) sent women in different types of shoes (high heel and flats) to perform various tasks such as engaging people to take part in a survey, picking up a dropped glove and attention received in a bar. The results indicated that higher heels significantly increased male participant’ willingness to comply with the survey request (with high heels getting an 82-83% response rate versus flat shoe 42-47%).
  • The women wearing the highest heel were generally approached by a man around 8 minutes after entering a bar, as opposed to 14 minutes for a woman in flats. This experiment shows that the persuasive effect of high heels does seem to be connected to their sex appeal and wearing high heels does not seem to influence other women.

Physical problems of wearing high heels

Wearing flat shoes ensures that your spine is straight, calf muscles are relaxed and your body weight is evenly distributed throughout your foot.

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By wearing high heels your natural balance is impaired causing:-

Pain –wearing high heels stops your foot from naturally rotating as you walk forcing them into a straight and unbending position. This causes the knee to absorb the brunt of every step, which can lead to severe joint pain and an exacerbation of arthritic symptoms.

Unnatural pressure on the ball of your foot. In heels you are standing on a ramp with your entire weight placed on the ball of your foot causing damage to the natural padding of your foot, delicate bones and nerves. The higher the heel, the bigger the impact.

Shortened calf muscles - Walking in heels stiffens and shortens your Achilles tendons which can cause you trouble even after you kick off your shoes.

Knees – Your knee is the largest joint in your body. Frequent use of high-heels can put extra stress on the inner sides of the knees, causing unnecessary wear and tear. This can lead to osteoarthritis.

Back Ache – Standing in heels actually cause your pelvis to push forward when you walk or stand, placing tremendous pressure on the lower back and potentially causing lingering pain.

Ingrown toenails, corns, bunions, hammertoe – When wearing high heels your feet can slide down putting pressure on your toes. This may cause ingrown toenails, corns and bunions.

Falls and Sprains – Due to the imbalance between the heel and the ball of the foot, your ankle is forced to become the pivot for your entire body. And, since our ankle in't meant to take that kind of pressure, falls and twisted or sprained ankles can be pretty common.

Morton’s neuroma – In this condition the nerve running between the toes is disturbed because of a build-up of fibrous tissue. This causes irritation and severe pain to the ball of the foot and base of the toe.  High heels have been blamed as the main cause especially as there has been a 115% rise with women aged between 40 and 69 seeking treatment for the condition. Treatment in extreme cases is surgery to cut or remove the nerve resulting in no feeling in the affected area.

How to avoid pain and disaster

The best and obvious way to avoid the pain and ill effects of being fashionable is to wear flat shoes but this may not be the best option for the fashion conscious woman.

If you must wear your killer heels:

  • Wear them for short periods of time
  • Stretch your leg muscles before and after wearing them
  • Avoid pointed toe styles
  • Use leather insoles to keep your foot from slipping forward
  • Wear a variety of shoes
  • Opt for a platform heel as this offers the look of high heels, but raises the ball of the foot as well as the heel, putting less pressure on the ball overall.
  • Use Orthopaedic Pads. These are small thin gel pads that you put on the ball of your foot and they work by giving more support under the ball of your foot or throughout the entire sole to make heels more wearable.

Don’t be defined by fashion. Wearing high heels does not seem to influence other women so if you would rather not use sex appeal to influence and get unwanted attention from men, then avoid them. Wearing high heels can make you look and feel great but you mustn’t ignore your body. Your feet have to look after you for many years.