High Heels, High Risk


By Dr. Mercola

Close to half of US women wear high heels, and those who wear them own an average of nine pairs each. The shoes tend to make a regular appearance even though 71 percent of women surveyed by the American Podiatric Medical Association (APMA) said the shoes hurt their feet.

When asked what they’d do if the shoes hurt, 38 percent of women confessed they’d continue to wear them anyway if it was a pair they liked. You might assume that the pain you’re experiencing is temporary, and once you take the heels off to give your feet a rub and some time to recuperate, they’ll be back to normal.

However, over time wearing high heels can lead to chronic problems, not only with your feet but also elsewhere in your body.

High Heel-Related Injuries Doubled in the Last Decade

From 2002 to 2012, more than 123,000 injuries from wearing high heels were treated in US emergency rooms. The amount of such injuries doubled from 2002 to 2012, according to the new research published in the Journal of Foot and Ankle Surgery.

The majority of injuries (more than 80 percent) involved sprains and strains to ankles and feet, although knees, shoulders, and even heads were also injured. Most of those injured were women between the ages of 20 and 29, and the injuries typically occurred while in the home.

In the majority of cases, the injuries were minor, and one in five resulted in a broken bone. The study’s lead author, Gerald McGwin, an epidemiology professor in the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) School of Public Health, noted:
“Although high-heeled shoes might be stylish, from a health standpoint, it would be worthwhile for those interested in wearing high-heeled shoes to understand the risks and the potential harm that precarious activities in high-heeled shoes can cause.”

High Heels Change the Dynamics of Human Walking

Even if you manage to avoid an injury such as a sprained ankle while wearing heels, such shoes can actually change muscle activity and the dynamics of normal walking.

High heels (generally described as a heel height of two inches or higher) shift your foot forward into an unnatural position with increased weight on your toes.

Your body tilts forward, so you lean backwards and overarch your back to compensate. This posture changes the normal human gait and adds tremendous strain to your hips, lower back, and your knees.

Researchers found high heels increase bone-on-bone forces in the knee joint significantly, which they said “may explain the observed higher incidence of osteoarthritis in the knee joint in women as compared with men.

A 2015 study published in the Journal of Orthopedic Research also found changes to knee kinematics and kinetics during high-heel walking that may contribute to increased osteoarthritis risk in women. The risk increased with extra weight and as the heel height increased.

Because of the extra stress placed on your knees, wearing high heels increased the risk of joint degeneration and knee osteoarthritis in yet another study as well.

Other research suggested the use of high-heeled shoes may “alter the natural position of the foot-ankle complex, and thereby produce a chain reaction of (mostly negative) effects that travels up the lower limb at least as far as the spine.

Additionally, according to research from the University of Southern California, wearing 3.75-inch heels may increase stress on your knee joints by up to 90 percent compared to wearing a half-inch heel!

Generally, the higher the heel the more stress it places on your knee joints, however even shoes with moderately high heels (1.5 inch) “significantly increase knee torques” that may contribute to the development and progression of knee osteoarthritis.