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Just how bad are high heels for you?

Just how bad are high heels for you?

High heels. They look great and can make your legs and figure look like a million bucks – but they can also hurt your feet and even impact your health. There is a time and place for wearing them but everyday use may weaken your core because of the way they misalign your skeleton and change your posture. Your body will try to compensate for these issues by creating bunions, corns, and may cause nerve damage (neuropathy), or even change the way you walk.

Regular daily use of high heels may eventually cause muscular/skeletal imbalances and is one of the best ways to tear down and weaken your functional core. Your body compensates for the heel lift by changing your posture. With postural compensation, a 2-inch heel could force your body into as much as a 22.5-degree angle, a 4-inch heel can increase the angle to 45 degrees and a 6-inch heel could force you into an unsustainable 67.5-degree angle. As the height of the heel increases, the stress on the kinetic chain (the skeletal chain of your feet/ankles, knees, hips, sacroiliac joint and spine) increases to maintain an upright position and allow you to look straight ahead instead of looking at the ground (which may result in neck pain). Heels also force your calf muscles into a sustained contraction. To compensate we must either bend our knees slightly or hyperextend the knees. Either way we compensate unconsciously and learn to create a graceful gait in our heels.

(many thanks to Chek Institute, modified replication)

Looking at the drawing below, you see that there are 3 basic postural compensations that we resort to when wearing heels:

(many thanks to Chek Institute, modified replication)  
  • Figure 1: The knees are flexed (bent) and pelvis hyper extended (booty up in the air like Donald Duck).
  • Figure 2: Knees are flexed (bent) and tailbone tucked under creating a flat lower back (looks like Pink Panther in heels).
  • Figure 3: Knees are hyper extended with exaggerated curves of both the lumbar and thoracic spine.
  • Figure 4: Is normal posture without heels

The anterior pelvic tilt associated with figures 1 and 3 disrupts the normal longitudinal tension between the abdominal and low back muscles and fascia. The lower abdominals are put into a stretch and the low back muscles are held in a position of constant tension. This may eventually weaken the abdominals, low back muscles and pelvic floor. In addition, it may lead to poor stabilization of the pelvis, sacroiliac dysfunction and problems with leg alignment and gait.

The pelvic tilt associated with figure 2 (Pink Panther) posture reduces the lumbar curve and places the lumbar back muscles under a lengthened strain (like someone pulling your pants down all day). This position tucks your tailbone under the pelvis (posterior tilt) fatiguing the low back muscles and is often accompanied with pelvic floor weakness. Unconsciously you may be habitually tightening the gluteus maximus and pelvic floor muscles, which will not only weaken them but can destabilize the pelvis. With this posture many people lack abdominal tone and may chronically try to hold their abs in or let them hang out. Either way, the deep abdominal core musculature needs help!

To make matters worse, cramming your feet into pointed shoes exacerbates musculoskeletal alignment issues. As your big toes migrate away from their normal functional position (due to the squeeze) your centre of gravity is changed and your body will do everything it can to restore the centre of gravity to its proper location. The development of bunions and corns is a very common by-product of the body’s ability to restore the proper centre of gravity and balance.

High heels also restrict proper gait mechanics and lower body muscular recruitment. Walking in high heels restricts the extension of the leg which in turn shortens the stride and does not allow the legs to generate maximum locomotive power. Walking keeps you healthy. Walking in hells does not.

Your health and the stabilization of your body starts from the ground up. If you want to improve your health reduce the amount of time in high heels. I would never get rid of them altogether, there’s a time and place for them – just not every day.

Here a few items to consider with regard to high heels.

  • Purchase a few good supportive flats to do your running around in and then change into the heels for the short term.
  • Choose shoes with a wide toe to accommodate your toes.
  • Raise the hemline on your skirt to give the illusion of longer legs to compensate for lower heels or flats.

If you’d like to learn more about repairing the damage caused by your high heels or to learn more about the many scientifically proven ways to Move Better and Feel Healthier give me a call at 519-716-0578 or email sue@bodyinnovations.org.

Wishing you a healthy mind and body,

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