Should You Really Be Wearing Those Stilettos?

I'm a high-heel addict. Cute styles, mile-long legs. They make you look thinner, cause you to stand a little straighter... what's not to love? Well, perhaps muscle damage in the foot.

August 28, 2015
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I’m a high-heel addict. Cute styles, mile-long legs. They make you look thinner, cause you to stand a little straighter… what’s not to love? Well, perhaps muscle damage in the foot.

According to a study published this summer in The International Journal of Clinical Practice, researchers conducted a pretty interesting experiment. How do you test the impact of heels on the foot over time? You try to level the playing field, looking at women who must wear them everyday for work in the same context.

Scientists selected students studying to be flight attendants at Hanseo University in South Korea to participate in their research; these women are required to wear heels everyday, in preparation for their eventual careers. With that in mind, they grabbed 10 ladies from each class — freshman, sophomore, junior, senior — measuring ankle strength and balancing abilities on a wobbly board.

Here’s what they found. While sophomores and juniors showed greater ankle strength in some of the muscles when compared to the heel-newbie freshman class, notably on the sides of the joint, seniors started to show a decline in those same muscles after four long years of a stiletto regimen. In addition, the older gals also had weaker muscles along the front and back of the ankle. Ah!

What’s going on? Basically, when you wear heels for a long time, there’s an unnatural, unbalanced amount of strength building sides of the ankles when compared to the front and back. This unevenness leads to unsteady walkin’, as well as increased risk of foot and leg injuries.

And it seems heels are just getting taller and more dangerous, right? They may be cute, but they can be According to a recent report in The Journal of Foot & Ankle Surgery, ER visits for high-heel-related injuries has doubled since 2002 in the United States. Young adult females in their 20s, who are the target market for those sky-high stilettos, are most at risk.

While I’ve sufficiently freaked out the faction of heel devotees out there, you shouldn’t worry. You don’t have to give up your favorite pair of sassy stilettos. Here are some tips:

Do heel lifts.

According to the researchers from the South Korean flight attendant study, simple heel lifts and heel drops can help strengthen muscles the right way, according to The New York Times. For the lifts: Stand on a flat surface, rise onto your toes, drop to the flat surface, and repeat. For the drops: Stand on the edge of a stair, drop your heels below the edge, bring them back to stair level, and repeat.

Slip heels off at the office.

The researcher also told the NYT that simply sitting in heels, with feet flat on the floor, isn’t the best idea, because it “can alter the resting length of the muscles and tendons around the ankle.” So, when you’re at your desk at work (or anywhere else you can feasibly remove your shoes), kick ’em off.

Choose comfort (when reasonable).

According to my pal Dr. Darria Long Gillespie, an ER physician at Emory University, the official, foot-surgeon-approved recommendation for heel height is two inches. So, keep some of those kitten heels on standby. And whenever you can, if you’re torn between two sexy shoe choices, choose the ones your feet feel best in. Recent research on running shoes showed that, to stay injury-free, the best choice was always the most-comfortable choice — ignoring other factors that scientists have suggested may reduce damage, like lessening impact force and managing ankle rotation. It’s really that simple: If you’re comfortable, your body can intuitively move in a way that’s natural for its makeup.

So, ladies: you don’t have to ditch your heels! In mean, I would never give up those look-better benefits (wink). That said, follow those few tips to reduce the damage your stilettos impart. Your feet deserve it.

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