High Heels May Increase Risk of Strains

By Kim Smiley

A new study found that habitually wearing high heels changes the biomechanics of how a woman walks and may increase the likelihood of strains, even when the heels are off.  The research compared young women who had worn high heels at least 40 hours a week for a minimum of two years with women who never or rarely wore heels.  Their walks were studied by using motion-capture reflective markers and electrodes to track leg-muscle activity.  The lengths of the muscle fibers in their legs were measured by ultrasound probes.

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After scrutinizing the walks of both those who favored heels and those who didn’t, the researchers determined that habitually wearing heels changed how the women walked, even when their feet were bare.  The high heel wearers took shorter, more forceful strides and kept their feet perpetually in a flexed position with their toes pointed.

Why does this matter?  The change in walking biomechanics means that the high heel wearers primarily engaged their muscles while walking.  The control group who rarely wore heels used a combination of tendons and muscles to walk.  The use of the tendons is important because they act as springs in the body and have the capacity to store energy.  Engaging tendons while walking is more efficient.  The high heel wearers had to use more energy to cover the same amount of ground as the control group and this can cause muscle fatigue. So this means that wearing high heels causes the muscles to be engaged more while walking, greater use of the muscles increases everyday strain on muscles and this may in turn increase the chance of strain injuries.

One of the more interesting findings was that frequently wearing high heels caused shortened fibers in calf muscles so that the changes in walking biomechanics remained even after high heels were removed.   It’s also interesting to note that the volunteers who participated in the study were young (the average age was 25) meaning that the changes the researchers found are not something that takes decades to occur.

The researchers recommend limiting high heel wear to a couple of times a week if possible and removing shoes when it’s an option, such as when seated at a desk.