While women have worn high heels for decades (and for centuries in some cultures), today’s medical researchers and healthcare professionals aren’t fans. This is because there’s a much greater appreciation of the price that modern women pay for “high” fashion in terms of their long-term musculoskeletal health. Simply put, wearing high heels creates unnecessary risks and is hard on the feet, ankles, knees and back. Is it really worth it?
When you wear high heels, they throw off your center of gravity, causing your pelvis to tip forward and forcing the muscles in your hips, thighs and lower back to work harder, which can lead to tightness and occasional spasms. They also create a greater curvature in your lower back, which makes the buttocks more prominent and lengthens the appearance of the legs. This is, of course, what makes high heels “sexy” looking.
The key thing to understand is that your body actually adapts to the kinds of stresses that you apply to it from day to day. This can be a very positive thing—in the case of exercise, for example, we can make our muscles stronger and our cardiovascular system more efficient. However, adaptation can also be a very negative thing. Think about how your body adapts to a sedentary lifestyle of office work, lengthy commutes and evenings eating bonbons in front of the TV. But how does this relate to wearing high heels?
Over time, high heels make some muscles in your body work harder than they should and let other important ones become weak. For instance, the gluteal muscles weaken and the hip flexors, which are responsible for raising your knee toward your chest, become unusually tight, causing back pain. Your hip flexors extend from the front of your thigh bone, through the hip joint, to end at the lower back. Therefore, if the muscle is tight and shortened it pulls on the lower back. High heels combined with a desk job are the worst of all, as the hip flexors become shortened from being in a sitting position all day.
If you don’t want to give up your high heels there are a few things you can do to reduce long-term damage to your back:
- Stretch your hip flexors regularly. You can reduce back pain by keeping these muscles stretched. To do this, kneel on one knee on the floor with the foot of the extended leg slightly forward of the knee. Then move your hips slowly forward so your knee is over your foot. You should feel a gentle stretch in the hip of the kneeling leg as you do this. Hold for 20-30 seconds and do twice on each side.
- Choose a lower heel. Try to buy shoes with a heel no higher than 2 inches. This will still achieve the elegant effect you are looking for without putting excessive stress on your musculoskeletal system.
- Tighten your abdominal muscles. Strengthening “core” muscles in your abdomen by practicing yoga or Pilates will help you maintain good posture while walking in heels and take some of the load of your upper body weight off your lower back.
- Receive regular chiropractic treatments. A well-trained and experienced chiropractor can realign a spine pulled out of alignment by high heels and can suggest appropriate exercises to help strengthen weak muscles.
- Wear high heels sparingly. Wear sneakers or other athletic shoes during your walk from the train to the office. Find a fashionable pair of flats to wear on a night out.
Chiropractic physicians are experts in diagnosing and treating health problems that affect the musculoskeletal and nervous systems. However, we also work closely with our patients to make important lifestyle changes today—especially related to exercise, nutrition and sleep—that will help prevent illness and injuries in the future. Whether you have specific concerns or more general health and wellness questions, we encourage you to call or visit our office today! You’ll be glad you did!