High heels - Pretty but Painful?

Dr. Ajay Kothari

High heels boost your confidence... and, according to evidence, increase your back pain.

That's right, that pretty pair of shoes can change your posture, strain your muscles and in the long term cause changes like slippage of your vertebrae and arthritis of your spinal joints.

73% of women admit to wearing heels at least some of the time, with 33% wearing them to work on a daily basis - quite a large number.

Heels fundamentally alter the biomechanics of your spine. Imagine the spine as a curved stick that must bear weight on top (your head) and transmit forces through itself (through your feet), in addition to which it needs to rotate and bend. Sounds difficult?

A pair of heels tip your body forward so that you bear weight through the ball of your foot (area directly beneath your toes) It also tilts your pelvis forward, exaggerating the lumbar (lower back) curvature. The knees are pushed back and the chest forward.

Although this may be an aesthetically preferred posture, it is a biomechanical disaster because it causes your muscles to have to work in an alignment to which they are.not accustomed. This leads to strain and an inability to support your joints. The ligaments, tendons and intervertebral discs are also under abnormal load, causing them to degenerate faster. Ironically, wearing heels to make yourself look younger can backfire by making your spine look older.

It's not just the spine - heels have an impact on other parts of the body too. They've been linked to the development of knee osteoarthritis.

They also cause foot problems ranging from calluses to hammertoes and bunions. Heels also lead to injuries, most commonly ankle sprains in inexperienced wearers.

It is, however, okay to wear heels occasionally.  A heel height of 1.5 inches or less is safe to stand and walk in for around 4 hours daily. Those between 1.5 to 3 inches should be worn less than 3 hours of standing, and four-inch stilettos -worn if absolutely necessary - are better off if you don't walk in them.

If you do wear heels and experience discomfort or pain, try these -

1) Roll a firm ball against your sole for pressure relief.

2) Pad the area of the shoe causing pain (straps, buckles)

3) Add a good insole for arch support.

4) Opt for wedge heels.

5) Choose rounded closed-toe shoes as they do not crowd the toes.

6) Walk heel-to-toe to avoid falling. 


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