Shoes – the ultimate power tool in a woman’s beauty kit. Diamonds might be forever, but shoes have got to win the ‘best friend’ spot. That feeling of elevation, that uplift (literally and figuratively) that comes with a gorgeous pair of high heels? Top of the world, we say!
But as the day wears on, those very beauties that clad your feet so snugly in the morning, start to pinch and clinch painfully. Halfway through the day, you’re not feeling like a million bucks anymore. You find yourself shifting your weight uncomfortably from one foot to the other, from the ball to the heel of your foot, and back to the ball – your feet trying to find the least painful way to get through the hours until you can flop down on your couch and kick those devil-shoes off.
It’s almost naïve to imagine that with that level of discomfort, we’re not putting our bodies through further damage than just pinched toes, blistered feet and calluses. The truth is that high heels put your body in an awkward position – one that you’re not anatomically designed to be in for long hours.
As a result, your body continuously tries to adapt to this newfound awkwardness, and the outcome is not necessarily good news for your spine, your joints and your muscles. Let’s take a look at a few effects that high heels have on your body:
You are forced to make a big balance compensation effort
There is an automatic compensation of balance to help carry your body as comfortably as possible when you’re in your heels. When you stand in heels, your back and hips are forced to flex forward to maintain proper balance. In an effort to compensate, your body tends to tense up in the the calf, hip and back areas.
After a long day on heels, this constant tensing results in both strain and muscle fatigue. Worn often enough and long enough, heels can also lead to your calf muscles cramping. If you’ve ever experienced a calf muscle cramp, you’re probably cringing a little right now at the thought of one half-way through your day, or worse, in the car driving to your next meeting.
Your spine loses its natural alignment
The spine, with its natural S-curved shape, is the overall shock absorber for the body. When you wear high heels, this S-curve is altered by an overarching in the lumbar spine or your lower back area, and as a result, displacing your head and neck out of alignment. Many women feel lower back pain, pain in their neck or shoulders after long hours in high heels. Dr. Surve’s high heel stretch recommended here is definitely worth trying out to relieve high-heels related back pain and tension in your leg muscles.
Over a long period of time, the effect on the spine can intensify, causing the vertebrae in your lower spine to slip forward one over the other in what is called spondylolisthesis.
You walk and stand all wrong
In high heels, your feet are in a constant downward slope, which puts a lot of pressure on the forefoot. In the attempt to maintain balance, and reduce stress on the forefoot, the lower portion of the body leans forward, and to balance that out, the upper body leans in a backward slant.
Try and become more mindful of your posture towards the end of a day you spend in high heels. If you just stop and observe, you’ll realise that your body is doing that half-and-half lean in opposite directions. While it might feel like you’re standing upright and well-aligned, that’s not really what your body is doing.
Your muscles get shorter and thicker
This particular side effect is little known, and comes as a surprise to many women. As a result of the undue stress on your knees and the back from the constant effort to keep balance, your muscles and tendons can start to change form. Over time, this stress can cause calf muscles and tendons to shorten and thicken.
It’s nerve-wracking, literally
Wearing high heels for extended periods of time can lead to foraminal stenosis. This condition occurs when an anatomical abnormality blocks or lessens the space in between the discs of your spine. If the reduction in space occurs in the lower back, you could experience some serious symptoms including shooting pains, tingling, numbness and spasms.
So, should you stop wearing heels altogether?
Well, we’re ones for moderation, and we’re sure you don’t want to know the real answer to that question, so we’ll just say that there are ways to lessen the many stresses that high heels cause your body.
The height of your heels largely determine the amount of weight that will be put on the forefoot, as well as the amount of compensation the body will have to make. The taller the heel, naturally, the heavier the weight and the more aggressive the compensation.
In comparison to a flat-heeled shoe, a one-inch high heel shoe will put 22% more weight on the forefoot, a two-inch heel 57% more pressure, and the three-inch heel – brace yourselves – impresses a whopping 76% more pressure on the forefoot, as compared to a flat-heeled shoe. That is a lot to have to compensate for.
If you’re only slipping those pretty heels on every once in awhile, you might feel a little ‘out of practice’ walking in them, but remember that you’re doing your body a kind favour by not getting too comfortable in what is an unnatural state for it in the first place.
And if your work wardrobe or your job (models, flight attendants, for instance) requires many long-hour, heel-wearing days, or you just can’t imagine giving up on all the beautiful pumps and peep-toes you own, then there’s a few ways to go about it: First, go as low, comfortable and cushioned on your heel choice as you can afford to, and secondly, pick up a few tips from the Daily Mail’s interesting take on curing high heel hangovers.