Disclaimer: I’m in heels today, as I am most workdays. They’re really cute Oxford booties, black patent with white topstitching. They’re currently sitting on the floor next to my desk. According to new research, that might not actually be helping.
In feminist discussions of high heels, outside of the feminist/not feminist/anti-feminist arguments, the patriarchal influence/free will arguments, and the choosing-of-my-choice, there’s usually at least one point of agreement: Yes, heels screw up your feet. Often yes, heels screw up your feet, but. But I wear them anyway. But I try not to wear them that much.
Researchers at Griffith University in Queensland, Australia, have been looking at the physiological impact of heel-wearing on women’s feet–not just the back pain and the foot-crunching, but changes on the muscle and tendon level. Those changes? Significant, they found, and negative and long-lasting.
Dr. Neil J. Cronin and his crew tested an experimental group of heels-wearers and a control group of flats-wearers to strap on electrodes and motion-capture reflectors and stomp for science.
It was obvious that, as the scientists had suspected watching the woman during their coffee break, that the women habituated to high heels walked differently from those who usually wore flats, even when the heel wearers went barefoot. But the nature and extent of the differences were surprising. In results published last week in The Journal of Applied Physiology, the scientists found that heel wearers moved with shorter, more forceful strides than the control group, their feet perpetually in a flexed, toes-pointed position. This movement pattern continued even when the women kicked off their heels and walked barefoot. As a result, the fibers in their calf muscles had shortened and they put much greater mechanical strain on their calf muscles than the control group did.
[Risks of injury due to muscle strain] 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 structure within. Any changes to this default setting,” he says, like pulling on Keds or Crocs, constitutes “a novel environment, which could increase injury risk.”
So much for my weekend Chucks. My weekday heels have actually rendered them dangerous.
Cronin recommends that heel-wearers scale back their heel-wearing to once or twice a week and try to remove their heels whenever possible. He didn’t indicate how long after going flat it would take for an individual’s calf muscles to return to a normal length, or if any kind of stretching exercises could help the process along. Which to me indicates that if I’m endangering my health anyway, I might as well just keep wearing the heels and enjoy the extra three inches of height.
(No, I’m not.)