Women often wear high heels in pursuit of longer, sleeker and sexier looking legs. There has always been conjecture as to just how much damage high heels do but this has now been quantified. Women will usually heave a sigh of relief when they are able to take the heels off at the end of the day and since high heeled shoes lift the wearer’s heels up; it has been thought they may cause problems for the calf muscles.
To test this some researchers compared a group of women aged between 20 and 50 who had regularly worn five centimetre heels for two years or more, to a group of women who never wore high heels.
The first step was to measure the calf muscles and associated tendons using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Since the calves of high heel wearers are put into a shortened position it was suspected that the calves would have shortened permanently. Surprisingly the muscles of both groups showed a muscle volume that was about the same, but while this in itself may not be bad news – there is more!
Ultrasound was used to measure the length of muscle fibres in the calf muscles of both groups. Those women who wore high heels had fibres that were 13% shorter than those who wore flat shoes. By putting the muscle in a shortened position on a regular basis the fibres had eventually been made shorter. This means that the calf muscles will struggle to function normally when out of high heels and would produce less force when they contract – tighter and weaker muscles.
Then using MRI again the researchers examined the Achilles tendon of the women and found that it was the same length in the two groups. So in the high heel wearers, the tendon had not lengthened to compensate for the shorter muscle fibres. However, in high heel wearers the Achilles was much thicker and stiffer. This would allow the women to walk in high heels but cause strain when walking on flat feet as the tendon cannot stretch sufficiently.
So your legs may look pretty good while you’ve got the heels on – but once you take them off you may discover the price for looking good is feeling bad.
And from a chiropractic perspective, anything that affects your leg mechanics will have a chain reaction into the hips and spine. In general we see ladies who wear high heels have forward pelvic tilt or sway back which can place great strain on the lower back and beyond.