When the majority of women think about dressing up, it’s unfathomable for most not to include high heels in the mix. Almost always, this decision is made consciously sacrificing comfort for fashion, and those who are accustomed to using them regularly commonly say that they wouldn’t dream of a life without high heels. But just how bad are heels for the articulations of our spine, legs, and feet? More than what most women would imagine.
To understand how high heels affect our spinal health, we must first understand that our body has a natural centre of gravity line that joins the ear, shoulder, lumber spine, knee, and ankle. When women use high heels, this line is shifted forward: the higher the heel, the greater the shift.
This shift in our natural centre of gravity forces the buttock muscles to tighten, increasing the load on the intervertebral discs and articulations of the low back. They also cause a chronic shortening of other muscles such as the calves, altering the biomechanics of the whole lower limb.
Whilst in heels, the load on the joints of the foot is also considerably higher. This can be appreciated when we look at an X-ray of a foot in a high heel shoe. The heel essentially shifts a major proportion of the body’s weight onto the delicate joints of the toes—articulations that definitely weren’t intended to receive a load in this manner.
The body is capable of giving us warning signals when the heels we are wearing are too high. These include: lower back pain, sciatic pain, leg cramps, buttock pain, and muscle contractions in the calves.
Arthritis, deformation of the foot, and bunions are a common consequence of the habitual wearing of heels. This is easy to understand when we consider that we were born barefooted, as this is the way nature intended for our foot to be positioned.
Tips to avoid heel-related injury:
1. Variety is the spice of life: don’t wear the same shoe every day.
2. Rest your feet: use lower shoes at least twice a week.
3. Go barefoot: don’t wear shoes at home. This will give your feet ample time to recover.
4. Give yourself a massage: softening the bottoms of your feet with your hands will help remove the muscle contraction caused by high heels.
5. Learn how to stretch your feet:
• To stretch the arch of the foot, stand on the edge of a step and slowly lower the heels down. This will also stretch the calf muscle.
• Similarly, one can lean with their back against a wall, feet flat and about 60-100cm from the wall. This should allow you to feel and relieve calf muscle tension.
• Alternatively, we can manually stretch the arch of the foot by holding just under the toes and pulling the foot back towards the lower leg.
6. Keep your heel height under 3-5cm: and don’t be deterred by initial discomfort. Many women complain of feeling more pain in their calf muscles when they change to a low-heeled shoe. Hang in there! This pain is a result of the previous chronic shortening of your calf muscle. Going from high heels to a lower shoe will make these muscles lengthen again, creating a temporary ache in the muscle.
Chiropractor and model Jason Gilbert has spent the last 20 years of his career in Latin America— principally Brazil—where he worked extensively within the fashion industry and acted as host for Fox Life’s “Emotional Health”. Gilbert has since been the go-to expert for many Brazilian TV channels.
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