High Heels

The Dangers of Wearing High Heels

In contemporary culture, high heels are often seen as a symbol of female empowerment. They are worn by powerful, driven women in a range of settings, whether it be on the cover of a magazine or in the boardroom of an office.

Persistent use of high heels can also cause spondylolisthesis or slippage of one of the vertebrae in your spine. When a vertebra moves out of place, it can lead to lower back pain, numbness or tingling in your legs, and stiffness of the back.

Indeed, media depict women who wear high heels while performing feats of incredible athleticism and agility as being a cut above the rest of us – role models that we should aspire to be.

But the reality of high heels is far less glamorous. Many women are obligated or pressured to wear them for social and work-related events, and they cause numerous short-term and long-term health problems.

Of course, many women enjoy how heels make them look and feel. But while it’s tempting to wear those six-inch stilettos and look like a tall, elegant goddess as often as possible, INTROVERT discusses why you might want to opt for flat shoes instead of heels as daily footwear.

Back Problems

High Heels

Wearing high heels alters the way you stand and, consequently, the way your back curves. When you wear high heels very often, such as on a daily basis, this can lead to anatomical changes and cause back pain.

Your spine is naturally slightly ‘S’-shaped, allowing your body weight to be evenly distributed to avoid too much stress on one part of your back.

However, when wearing heels, your legs lean forwards and the lower portion of your back straightens, flattening the ‘S’ shape.

This changes the alignment of your spine and detracts from its natural ability to evenly distribute body weight. Some of your back muscles end up bearing the brunt of the stress and begin to ache from overuse.

Persistent use of high heels can also cause spondylolisthesis or slippage of one of the vertebrae in your spine. When a vertebra moves out of place, it can lead to lower back pain, numbness or tingling in your legs, and stiffness of the back.

Another back problem that can arise from the overuse of high heels is foraminal stenosis. This is when the spinal canal is made smaller by anatomical changes to the spine. Foraminal stenosis can lead to nerves being compressed and thus cause pain and numbness in the lower back and legs.

Joint Pain

Because your feet are forced into a specific position by high-heeled shoes, they do not move and rotate as they usually do when you walk. And as with your back, the natural weight distribution in your legs is changed because of the elevation of your heels.

The forward lean of your legs forces pressure on your knees, as they are trying to stop your body from essentially falling forwards. This can seriously damage the cartilage in your knees (which does not grow back) and lead to osteoarthritis.

Osteoarthritis is a type of arthritis that causes stiffness and pain in damaged joints. Due to their common use of high heels, osteoarthritis is far more common among women than men according to the BBC.

Shortened Achilles Tendon

High Heels

When you walk around in flat shoes or barefoot, your achilles tendons lengthen and shorten as your feet move.

The more pointed your toes are and the closer your heel is to your calf, the shorter the tendon is, and vice versa. So, when you’re wearing heels and your heel is constantly raised, your achilles tendons are fixed in a short position.

Wearing heels on a daily basis causes your Achilles tendon to become shorter in the long run. This pulls on the ligament that goes along the bottom of your foot, causing tension and pain in your arch and heels.

Ultimately, wearing heels too often makes it difficult to wear flat shoes because of the changes to the muscles and tendons in your lower legs. Your feet grow used to the shape and structure of heels and make wearing flatter shoes uncomfortable and painful.

Weak Ankles

The strict positioning of your feet by high-heeled shoes also causes changes in your ankles. Though at first, wearing heels regularly can strengthen your ankle muscles, if worn regularly for over four years, high heels will reduce the strength of your ankle muscles.

Weaker ankles can negatively impact your ability to balance, and thus make you more susceptible to falling or spraining or fracturing an ankle.

It can also lead to joint pains and swelling, particularly if the ankle cartilage is damaged.

And while a sprained ankle is bad enough in itself, the higher risk of falling makes it more difficult to navigate uneven surfaces and also increases the likelihood of sustaining other fall-related injuries.

Corns and Calluses

Wearing high heels applies constant pressure and friction to the balls of your feet and can cause corns and calluses to appear. In an attempt to protect itself, the skin beneath your feet can harden and become painful or irritating.

While generally not harmful, corns and calluses can lead to further complications for those with diabetes or conditions that restrict blood flow to the feet.

Toe Problems

High Heels

The restrictive nature of high-heeled shoes can eventually lead to a change in the shape of your toes. This most commonly takes the form of a hammertoe or a bunion.

A hammertoe is when one of your toes curves or points downwards instead of being straight and pointing forwards. It occurs when one of the joints in the toe becomes bent or flexed, often due to being pressed into a particular shape by the toes of a pair of heels.

Hammertoe can be present from birth and can be exacerbated by wearing heels too often, or it can begin as a result of constantly wearing heels.

A bunion is a bony bump that forms most commonly on the joint in your big toe. It occurs when the big toe is pushed towards the other toes and the joint begins to enlarge and protrude, causing a painful bump.

Smaller bunions can also occur for similar reasons on the little toe’s joint. Both cases are often a result of spending too much time in pointy-toed heels.

Ingrown Toenails

A further problem that arises from your toes being forced into a tight space are ingrown toenails. This occurs when your toes are forced tightly together for long periods of time, causing the toenail to grow into the skin of the toe.

Ingrown toenails can be very painful and can lead to a toe infection. If the toe is infected, you will see pus around it, and should see your doctor for antibiotics to treat it.

High heels can cause a lot of problems in your back, legs, and feet, but that doesn’t mean you have to avoid them altogether. Wearing heels once in a while for a special occasion like a party or an important work meeting is unlikely to cause serious health problems.

However, for day-to-day activities, and particularly those that put a lot of strain on your feet, wearing flat shoes or trainers will do you a world of good.

Looking and feeling like a powerful, sophisticated woman is wonderful but it should never come at the cost of your health.

Listening to your body, taking note of what is and isn’t working for you, and making sure that you’re both stylish and comfortable will make you feel far more powerful than a pair of shoes ever could.