Unhappy Feet: How Those Hot Heels Are Hurting You

on July 30, 2015

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Havoc in High Heels

We've all rolled our eyes as the action movie heroine hobbles helplessly away from danger-or right into the fray-in her 4-inch heels. Don't be that girl.

Okay, so it's unlikely you'll find yourself sprinting from a natural disaster or lab-generated bloodthirsty dinosaur hybrid with a hunky hero by your side (swoon). That's no reason you shouldn't pause before putting on those pumps. In case you haven't heard, these cute accessories are among the top back pain culprits and can inflict serious damage on your spine, hips, knees, and feetu2013permanently.

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Your Body on Stilts

When sporting sky-high stilettos, according to The Spine Health Institute, the chest and lower back are pushed forward, misaligning the hips and spine. Calf muscles are engaged, putting excess pressure on the knees. Rather than distributing the body's weight throughout the feet, heels increase pressure on the balls of the feet, which are forced downward. The s-curved shape of a healthy back, which serves as a shock absorber to reduce stress on the vertebrae, flattens as the upper body leans in order to compensate in heels. This overarching of the back can cause muscle overuse as well as lower back pain.

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An Unstable Foundation

The uneven weight distribution to the ball of the foot compromises the body's balance, and your posture changes resulting from the upper body's backward leaning to accommodate the jutting forward of the hips. The scary part? Over a number of years, these changes can become permanent.

Toronto chiropractor and acupuncturist Dr. Ben Kim says, "This is because your body, from feet to head, is similar to a long chain of gears, where the happy functioning of each gear depends on the happy functioning of every other gear." Kim says other areas of your body will be forced to compensate and endure extra wear and tear if the joints of your feet don't work properly due to the strain of wearing high heels. An added consequence is the thickening of tendons, particularly the Achilles, and shortening of muscles in the calves.

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A Lasting Impact

One icky side effect of hoofing it in high heels is the risk of ingrown toenails, which occurs when the toenail grows into the skin due to compression. While this problem is generally reduced to a minor annoyance, ingrown toenails can sometimes become infected, requiring the removal of the entire nail. A more serious condition called spondylolisthesis frequently occurs as a result of wearing heels-it involves the slippage of one vertebra forward over another.

A spinal nerve condition called foraminal stenosis can occur when disc space is blocked or narrowed as a result of anatomical abnormalities such as the enlargement of a joint. Symptoms can include shooting pains in the lower back, as well as numbness, tingling, muscle weakness, spasms, cramping, and pain through the buttocks and legs. Learn more about the spine here.

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Part with the Pumps?

Should you give up heels altogether? Not necessarily. The American Osteopathic Association recommends opting to wear them only on days that require little walking or standing, and aiming for no more than a 2-inch heel height. Weight pressure on the forefoot can be determined by the heel-a 1-inch heel results in 22% of the body's weight placing pressure on the ball of the foot, with a 2-inch heel placing 57%. A 3-inch heel places a whopping 76% pressure onto the forefoot.

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Walk the Line

Wearing a wide variety of styles on a rotation will allow for stretching of the muscles to keep your footsies feeling fabulous. Stretch your leg muscles before and after slipping them on, and purchase your heels in the afternoon, when feet are at their largest. Be sure heels are the right size, and pick a style with a wide toe box that allows you to wiggle your toes. Avoid pointed toes and slippery insoles-try to get a soft leather insole to keep your foot from sliding and to reduce impact on your knees.

Leonardo Da Vinci called the human foot "a masterpiece of engineering and a work of art." Take a hint from the man who brought us the Mona Lisa and protect yours!