Heels are definitely one of the most stylish footwear for women and research has shown that when they did a biomechanical analysis of a woman’s gait in heels, it was found to be more feminine. She had shorter strides and more rotation at the pelvis adding to the charm and appeal but heels can cause a lot of musculoskeletal disorders if proper care is not taken.
In an interview with HT Lifestyle, Dr Nidhi Bajaj Gupta, Physiotherapy Healer, Holistic Wellness Coach and Founder of Merahki Holistic Wellness, shared, “Since heels put your calf muscles in a shortened position it can cause calf tightness and protruding veins in the calves. The entire body weight is shifted forward in heels and hence it leads to excessive pressure on the toes leading to hammer toes and bunions. Heels also cause an excessive arch in the back known as lumbar lordosis hence it can also lead to low back and knee pain.”
The good news is that if care can be taken the side effects of wearing heels can be reduced. She suggested a few guidelines:
1) Please ensure that you regularly stretch your calf muscles for 60 seconds each and do 2-3 repetitions every day. It can be done at any time of the day or preferably as you remove the heels.
2) You can also gently massage your calf and foot area. A foam roller can be used 2-3 times a week to release the calf muscle trigger points. The foam roller can be used on the hamstrings, iliotibial band and low back muscles too.
3) Please do some ankle range of motion exercises like taking the foot up, down, sideways and rotations clockwise and anti-clockwise. Also add some ankle stability exercises like standing on one leg with eyes open and then eyes close. This improves the proprioception of the ankle joint and hence reduces the instability caused due to heels.
4) While walking in high heels do your best to walk as normal as possible, that is heel to toe walking. In heels women tend to do toe to heel walking which is improper biomechanics. Consciously practice first putting the heel to the ground then roll over to the toe during gait. If practiced consistently women can have the correct gait with heels too.
5) Improve your posture as while wearing heels the centre of gravity shifts forward which is harmful for all the joints. Close your eyes, imagine there is an invisible string which is keeping your head upright. The head should be in line with your spine, chin shoulder be parallel with the floor. You need to avoid looking down. Let your shoulders be back, arms relaxed and don’t let the knees be locked. You can slightly suck in your belly to avoid excessive arching at the low back. This can be practiced a few times before walking in heels and it will become a natural part of your posture.
Asserting that wearing high heels may be fashionable and make you feel taller and sexier but it does come at a price, Dr Manan Vora, Sports Medicine Expert and Orthopaedic Surgeon, pointed out, “High-heeled shoes can cause a plethora of foot problems while impairing stability and increasing the risk of injury. Leg, back, and foot pain are among some of the more common complaints. Long-term use can even cause structural changes in the foot itself, leading to bunions, hammertoe, neuroma, equinus and other conditions that may require surgical correction. In addition to injury, high heels place excessive stress on the back and lower extremities that can profoundly affect posture, gait, and balance.”
While completely stopping to wear heels isn’t feasible, he advised a few tips that you can keep in mind while purchasing and wearing your favourite heels:
1. While purchasing heels, make sure you buy the right size that fits you well. If you buy a bigger size, you can fall. If you buy a smaller size, it can be tight thereby causing pain.
2. Some of us have narrow feet, some have wide, some have smaller toes, while some might have long toes. There are so many variations. If you have wide feet, do not to wear closed tapered shoes, wear wide front closed ones or open toe ones. Even those with smaller toes should opt for closed wide front shoes. The pointed front shoes will pinch your toes and make it very uncomfortable. Heels that cramp your toes will cause pain when walking and increase the possibility of getting bunions, corns and developing hammertoes and even arthritis later in life.
3. Wearing heels puts more pressure on your feet, especially the balls of the feet. Before purchasing that coveted pair, check that they have proper padding and cushioning in the area that supports the balls of feet. High heels with excellent cushioning and padding provide great support and comfort to your feet.
4. When choosing high-heels, check where the heel is placed. The heel should ideally be placed under your own heel. Remember, thicker the heel, the greater the support it provides for your body. Look for platforms that will distribute your weight across the entire foot evenly instead of concentrating it at the ball of the foot or the heel. So, go for wider, thicker heels if you want to decrease the risk of sprained ankles.
5. High heels that are 3 cm to 9 cm high are the most comfortable to walk in. Heels more than that height put more pressure on your lower back, knees, ankles and do not give any support for balancing.
6. Give your feet a break. When wearing high heels, the best advice you can take to prevent pain is just to sit down whenever possible! This will give your feet a break and will stop any pain or discomfort from building, keeping your feet fresh.
7. Don’t wear high heels too often. High heels look fabulous but save them for special occasions only.
Come let us together ‘heal’ the ‘heel’ issues!