High Heels, High Danger?

Jan 26, 2012 10:30am

Fashionistas of the world, it’s true.

The pain you feel while walking in your 6-inch Louboutins and sky-high Prada pumps is  a symptom of  the real damage  high heels may be doing to your body, new  research finds.

“The structure of the foot is just not meant to be crammed in the shoe that way,” Dr. Braxton Little, a podiatrist at the UCLA Medical Center in Santa Monica, Calif., told ABC News.  “It just puts the body in a very unnatural position.”

PHOTOS: High Heels Gone Wild

A first-of-its-kind study published last week in the The Journal of Applied Physiology found that wearing high heels could lead to permanent damage of the calf muscles by increasing the mechanical strain on the muscles  and shortening the muscles’ fibers, all thanks to the flexed, toes-pointed position of the feet that remains even after you kick off those stilettoes.

The Australian study looked at nine women, who  ranged  in age from  late teens to early 30s, and had worn high heels for at least 40 hours per week for the past two years.

Researchers, as reported in the New York Times, used ultrasound probes, electrodes and motion-capture markers to monitor the women as they walked, barefoot and then in heels, along a 26-foot-long walkway.

The findings suggest  that the women in high heels walked with “shorter, more forceful strides” and engaged their muscles as opposed to their tendons, leaving them vulnerable to injury and prone to muscle fatigue, the Times reported.

“We think that the large muscle strains that occur when walking in heels may ultimately increase the likelihood of strain injuries,” Dr. Neil Cronin, one of the study’s lead researchers, told the Times.

The damage for heel- wearers is not eased by switching to sneakers or flats, according to the study, because that only increases the risk of injury by forcing the foot into a new position.

The repeated wearing of high heels is widely known to increase the risk of   such conditions as osteoarthritis, hammer toes, bunions and corns, but doctors said the damage could be happening in areas beyond the legs, such as the back, and in areas and ways not immediately evident, such as the heart.

“Inflammation inside your body can happen anywhere.  It can happen from wearing shoes,” Little, who was not involved in the Australian study, told ABC News.  “When we put your foot into a shoe, it has nowhere to go but to bind the toes.”

Homing in on the point, researchers in England last week also released a study, published in the Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases Journal, that found wearing high heels could lead to flat feet, as it can weaken the tendons that support the arch of the foot, leading it to fall, which causes pain and can make it difficult to walk.

Faced with these findings, what is a high-heel lover to do?

Both  Cronin, author of the Australian study, and UCLA’s Little said that women do not have to give up high heels completely.  Moderation is the key.

“Wear high heels once or twice a week … and try to remove the heels whenever possible, such as when you’re sitting at your desk,”   Cronin told the Times.

Similarly, Little recommends taking off the heels while walking to work and driving a car.

ABC News’ Nick Watt, Cathy Becker and Daisha Riley contributed to this report.

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