High Heel Healers Part I: Minimising the problems

Heels look great but can cause discomfort and damage – here’s how to keep those problems at bay

If you look at the anatomical structure of varying joints in the body, you will notice that some are designed to promote movement whilst others are designed to resist it. The vertebrae of the lower back are shaped in a way that favours little motion. Hence the importance of “core” strength, as these muscles facilitate the resistance of motion at this segment of the spine.

A joint designed to facilitate significant motion, on the other hand, is the ankle. Significant movement at this region is vital as the body’s centre of mass progresses over the foot during walking and running. The body is the king of compensation. If a mobile joint doesn’t facilitate enough motion, the body will find it from somewhere else. Ironically, often it is at a stable joint that the compensatory motion will be found. As a stable joint isn’t structured in a manner that allows considerable movement, it often finds itself moving beyond its structural limits. It is in this scenario that injury is likely.

So what do high heels have to do with all of this? Well in addition to being the king of compensation, the body is also the ace of adaptation. If you are to hold a soft tissue structure of the body (skin, tendon, ligament, muscles, fascia etc) in the same position for long enough, it will eventually take on that shape. Just look at the “cauliflower ears” many wrestlers and rugby players adopt after years of soft tissue adaptation from scrummaging and grappling.

The exact same phenomenon applies when wearing shoes with a notable heel for much of the day. Wearing shoes of this nature essentially brings the attachment sites of the calf muscles closer together. Eventually the calves will take on this shortened position, and restrict the motion available at the ankle. Without adequate ankle motion, it is common that foot, knee, and lower back health will suffer, as these stable joints are often sources of compensation.

Whilst we at The Foot Group would love to see all our patients out of high heels, we acknowledge that for many women this is just not an option. Instead we recommend you adhere to the following tips to ensure your new Jimmy Choos don’t lead to unhealthy, problematic feet:

  • Wear your runners during your commute to and from work
  • When sitting at that desk, take your heels off
  • Keep a tennis ball under the desk to roll under the foot whilst working
  • Get up from your desk every 40-60 minutes and walk around the office barefoot

Our next post demonstrates some mobility exercises specifically directed at freeing up the soft-tissue restriction induced by high heel wear.

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