A Scientific Look at the Dangers of High Heels
Does it fundamentally matter if a woman’s calf muscle fibers shorten and she neglects her tendons while walking, especially if she loves the looks of her Louboutins?
That question is difficult for a biomechanist to answer, Dr. Cronin admits. Aesthetics are outside the realm of his branch of science. But the risk of injury is not. “We think that the large muscle strains that occur when walking in heels may ultimately increase the likelihood of strain injuries,” he says. (This risk is separate from the chances that a woman, if unfamiliar with heels, may topple sideways and twist an ankle or bruise her self-image, which is an acute injury and happened to me only the one time.)
The risks extend to workouts, when heel wearers abruptly switch to sneakers or other flat shoes. “In a person who wears heels most of her working week,” Dr. Cronin says, the foot and leg positioning in heels “becomes the new default position for the joints and the structures within. Any change to this default setting,” he says, like pulling on Keds or Crocs, constitutes “a novel environment, which could increase injury risk.”
It should be noted, he adds, that in his study, the volunteers “were quite young, average age 25, suggesting that it is not necessary to wear heels for a long time, meaning decades, before adaptations start to occur.”
So, if you do wear heels and are at all concerned about muscle and joint strains, his advice is simple. Try, if possible, to ease back a bit on the towering footwear, he says. Wear high heels maybe “once or twice a week,” he says. And if that’s not practical or desirable, “try to remove the heels whenever possible, such as when you’re sitting at your desk.” The shoes can remain alluring, even nestled beside your feet.
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