Are Your Heels too High?

Having pain in your back and knees? How about your hips, pelvis and ankles? Even your neck?

It could be your feet.

Over the last century and then some, women’s shoes have evolved and devolved—Mary Janes, kitten heels, wedges, T-straps, low heels, high heels, stilettos, wide heels, peep-toe, pointy-toe, square-toe, strappy heels, mules, ankle-straps, pumps, go-go boots, platform heels, clogs, sandals, slingbacks, huarache-style, crocs, platform sneakers, heels that have no heel, and the ever-popular flip-flops—but very seldom have fashionable shoes been healthy, not only for women’s feet, but the back, knees, and hips as well.

Fun Fact: the first high-heeled shoe style was worn by men in the Persian cavalry during the 10th century.

High heels change your posture.

The spine naturally curves resembling an S, with discs that absorb impact between each vertebra, an arrangement that protects your spine when you bend or jump.

But when you wear high heels, your lower back tends to arch outward more than is normal, and your weight is pushed forward, causing you to imperceptibly lean back in order to maintain your balance.

Anatomical changes.

Wearing heels for prolonged periods of time can result in anatomical changes over the years. In addition to the stress put on the knees, back, and ankles, wearing heels will cause the calf muscles to shorten and tendons to become thicker and tighter.

I knew a woman, many years ago, who had worn nothing but heels for so long that her calf muscles had shortened to the point that, when in her older years, she was unable to wear flats at all without pain.

High heels can affect your pelvic structures.

The normal working dynamics between the glutes, the pelvic floor, respiratory diaphragm, the mutifidus muscle, and transverse abdominis become imbalanced when you wear high heels.

And what does all that mean? The pelvic floor is a group of muscles and ligaments that sit inside the pelvis and are, by and large, forgotten. But the pelvic floor is an integral part of the “anticipatory core.” This core is made up of abdominal muscles, including the diaphragm, muscles in the spine, and the pelvic floor that allow the body to prepare for motion and creates stability in the trunk. These along with the back, knees, and ankles make up the foundation that holds the body structure up. Without them, we would be unable to squat, bend, lift, and perform many other activities that life calls for.

So what can happen when this system gets out of whack? Incontinence, pelvic, low back and hip pain, gastronintestinal issues, and constipation, to name a few.

Other possible consequences of wearing high heels long-term:

  • Ingrown toenails
  • Muscle spasms
  • Osteoarthritis on the knees
  • Damaged leg tendons

And if you are already having problems in your back, wearing high heels can result in spondylolisthesis, forminal stenosis, and sciatica. Those words alone should scare you enough to slip your feet comfortably into a nice pair of loafers.

For many years I have suffered back pain and sciatica. I think back over my life and wonder if all those years from my youth into adulthood, when it was fashionable to wear high heels, combined with many other activities that I likely did not perform in the proper way, might very well be the cause.

Podiatrists recommend that heels should be wide and no higher than two inches. They also recommend that the length of time wearing heels should be limited, and changing heel heights would help to avoid pressure on the knees and back. So ladies, if we wear, lower and wider heels made of cork or rubber, with a round toe box, in a wedge-style, we will experience less foot pain, discomfort, and harm to the back, knees, ankles, and pelvis.