High Heels --- How They Affect Your
Entire Body
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November 24, 2013

By Kenneth Lashay, Contributing Columnist

[Health and fitness articles are reviewed by our team of
Doctors and
Registered Nurses, Certified fitness trainers and other members of our
Editorial Board.]





Contrary to what you might think, wearing high heels is not
a recent development in society. Egyptian murals dating to
3500 B.C. depict upper class citizens wearing heels for
ceremonial purposes, and butchers of the day wearing
them to keep their feet elevated from blood on the floor.
Ancient Roman prostitutes were readily identifiable by their
higher heels, and subsequent variations and improvements
on the design of high heels were used in Europe, the Near
East, and China from the Middle Ages onward. Some of this
medieval usage was again related to keeping the foot
above undesirable surfaces like muddy streets, but
increasingly high heels were worn to project an image of
higher status and sexuality.

High heels truly arrived on the fashion scene in 1533 when
14-year old Catherine de Medici, being short in stature,
wore them to impress her betrothed, the Duke of Orleans.
The look took off like wildfire and ever since that time,
users of high heels have enjoyed the considerable benefits
of fashion appeal - but have also been suffering from the
physiological damage they impart to many parts of the
body.

In January of 2012, a first-of-its-kind study was released
in the Journal of Applied Physiology which discussed
permanent physical damage resulting from high heel usage,
not just to feet and legs, but to other parts of the body as
well. Moreover, the study found that damage began very
soon – in as little as six months – and that such damage
was already found in young women in their late teens and
early twenties. All this physical damage is due to the fact
that wearing heels forces a woman to place all her weight
on the ball of the foot, which in turn causes her to thrust
knees and hips forward, and to arch her back to
compensate for the instability.

Damage to Feet

Dr. Natalie Nevins, an osteopathic physician, explains that
bending the toes into the unnatural position inside high
heels causes a whole range of problems to the foot,
including ingrown toenails, bunions, corns, plantar fasciitis,
deformities, and damage to tendons and nerves.
Additionally, pain and numbness can be experienced in the
foot because of the changed position of the spine, which
then puts pressure on and pinches the nerves.

Damage to Legs

























The Australian study mentioned above found that due to
the shorter, more forceful strides taken by wearers of high
heels, fiber and muscle in the calves and tendons actually
shortened up. This includes the crucial Achilles tendon,
which tightens up when the heel of the foot becomes
elevated. It can then become painful to switch back to flat
shoes, or even to try and stretch out the shortened tendon.

Overworked leg muscles and
osteoarthritic knees are also
linked to prolonged usage of high heels.  A 2014 study
from Stanford University Department of Mechanical
Engineering found that wearing high heels,
especially if you
are at least 20 pounds overweight
, puts you at a
significantly higher lifetime  risk for osteoarthritis.

Damage to Your Back

Because the spine is forced into an unnatural position by
wearing high heels, low back pain and back spasms often
result. Posture can also affected by long-term usage of
high heels, due to the altered position of the spine.

Do I Have to Give Up Heels?

Despite this litany of problems that can be caused by
wearing high heels, many women are still loath to
relinquish the sense of fashion and well-being derived from
wearing them. A study published in the British Journal of
Podiatry sampled opinions of women from ages 17 to 73,
and over 80 percent of these women indicated they would
not stop wearing high heels, even after being made aware
of potential problems.

So what can be done? Actually, many of the ill effects of
high heel usage can be mitigated, if the wearer is prepared
to take some precautions.

Wearing heels of different heights will greatly reduce the
problem of shortening tendons, and stretching the leg and
toes with a sheet slung around the base of the foot can
relax the tightening incurred during the day.

Simply reducing the number of times heels are worn can be
a big help too, for instance choosing special occasions
rather than everyday office usage. Even for office wear, it
is worthwhile to wear flats on the way to and from work to
keep feet and toes in their natural position as long as
possible. The style of the shoe chosen can also lessen strain
– shoes with greater heel area and those with elevation
less than two inches will significantly reduce overall impact
on the body.

There is not much doubt that high heels will be around for
a long time to come, just as there is not much doubt that a
great deal of associated damage will be done to toes, heels,
legs, knees, and backs. However, being aware of the risks
involved and taking steps to limit them can bring about
something like a happy medium between fashion and
damage to wearers of high heels.


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High heels have been  essential fashion gear for women  since the
1500's.