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High heels: delicious or devilish?

A film noir style high heel

High heels have long been an iconic symbol of femininity and style. However, behind their alluring appearance lies a world of discomfort and potential health issues.

However, for all of the wonderful colours and designs available, it’s perhaps fair to say that high heels are not the most forgiving or comfortable form of footwear. But what exactly do heels do to the body when they’re being worn?

The perils of posture

One of the primary challenges of wearing high heels is the impact they have on an individual’s posture. When wearing heels, the body's centre of gravity shifts forward, causing the lower back to arch excessively and the pelvis to tilt forward. This unnatural alignment places significant strain on the back muscles, leading to discomfort and potential long-term issues such as lower back pain.

Moreover, high heels force the wearer to distribute weight predominantly on the forefoot, putting excessive pressure on the metatarsal bones. This shift in weight distribution can lead to various foot problems, including bunions, hammertoes and plantar fasciitis.

Common foot problems

Woman suffering wearing high heels

Wearing high heels frequently can contribute to the development of several foot conditions. Bunions, for instance, are bony bumps that form at the base of the big toe joint. These painful deformities are often caused by the narrow toe space and excessive pressure placed on the forefoot whilst wearing high heels.

Hammertoes, another common issue, occur when the toes are forced into a bent position for prolonged periods. This can lead to toe deformities, corns and calluses. The constricting nature of high-heeled shoes also compresses the nerves, causing a condition known as Morton's neuroma, which is characterised by pain, tingling and numbness in the ball of the foot.

Designer perspectives

Whilst high heels are frequently celebrated in the fashion industry, some designers are acknowledging the challenges they pose to wearers. They recognise the need for a balance between style and comfort and are now focusing on incorporating ergonomic design elements—such as cushioning, arch support and wider toe boxes—to alleviate some of the discomfort associated with high heels.

Some designers have even gone a step further by offering options with lower heel heights or incorporating technologies like shock-absorbing materials to reduce the strain on the feet and lower limbs. These initiatives aim to make high heels more accessible and wearable for women, without compromising on style.

A podiatrist's perspective:

From a podiatrist's standpoint, high heels present a significant concern. According to Dr. Sarah Walker, a renowned podiatrist, ‘High heels disrupt the natural alignment of the feet and alter the biomechanics of walking. Prolonged wear can lead to a range of issues, from chronic foot pain to irreversible structural changes.’

Dr. Walker emphasises the importance of moderation when it comes to high heel usage—something we’d echo at Treat Your Feet. She recommends limiting the time spent in heels and suggests opting for lower heel heights some of the time and wearing comfortable footwear with ample arch support and cushioning when possible. Regular foot exercises and stretches can also help counterbalance the negative effects of high heels.

Ultimately, it’s crucial for individuals to be aware of the potential risks associated with wearing high heels regularly. Finding a balance between style and comfort is key, and consulting a podiatrist can provide valuable insights into maintaining good foot health whilst still enjoying fashionable footwear.

Though designers are making strides in improving the comfort of high heels, no shoe can completely negate the inherent challenges they pose. Women should consider the occasion, duration of wear, and their individual foot anatomy when choosing to wear high heels.

It’s also important to prioritise foot care and take preventive measures to mitigate the negative effects when they’re worn. Regular foot massages, stretching exercises and investing in supportive orthotic inserts can help alleviate discomfort and minimise the risk of developing chronic foot problems. Listen to your body.

Fashion should never come at the expense of your health, and finding the perfect balance between style and comfort is the key to happy and healthy feet.


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