High heels can alter your anatomy

Got a high heel habit? Fashionistas are long accustomed to living by the adage ‘No pain, no gain’ — but in addition to the aching feet and other common ailments, high heels can actually alter the shape of your body, according to a British study.

According to the findings, published in the Journal of Experimental Biology, the incline of high heels causes the calf muscles to contract. And over time, this causes the muscle fibers to shorten and the Achilles tendon — which connects the calf muscle to the bone — to stiffen and become thicker.

Changes in calf muscles and tendons can be so pronounced — and stretched beyond their normal range of movement — that habitual high-heel wearers experience discomfort when they walk around in flatter shoes or sneakers.

“In a way, the system has adapted to this new position,” study leader Marco Narici of Manchester Metropolitan University told Live Science. “When they wear high heels the muscles feel more comfortable.”

Scientists already know that when people place their muscles in a shortened position for a long period of time — such as in a plastic cast — the muscle literally becomes shorter, Narici added.

For the study, researchers looked at 80 women aged 20 to 50 who wore high heels of at least two inches almost daily for at least two years. Ultrasounds showed that when compared with women who did not wear heels, they had calf muscle fibers that were 13 per cent shorter. MRI scans also revealed the Achilles tendon was thicker and stiffer for the high-heel wearers.

So what’s a girl to do? Give up high heels forever? If you can’t quite see yourself making a permanent move from those fierce stilettos to more sensible footwear, Narici recommends a less dire measure: engage in stretching exercises when you kick your heels off at the end of the day.

Avoid stylish shoes blues

The American Podiatric Medical Association (APMA) offers these tips for selecting fashionable — and healthier — footwear.

The Perfect Pump. When selecting a pump, beware of styles that are too pointy. The pressure placed on toes over time can contribute to unsightly bony prominences (hammertoes) as well as bumps at the base of the big toe (bunions). Also look for shoes with deep toe boxes for more comfort and wiggle room.

Sling-backs. Make sure straps aren’t too tight to prevent chafing on the back of the heel. Conversely, make sure they aren’t too loose, so that you don’t need to constantly pull them up.

(Note: Products such as Foot Petals’ Strappy Strips can be placed on the inside of straps to prevent them from cutting into or sliding down the heel.)

Chunky Heels. This style is reasonably more foot-friendly than its skinny friend. Known for its relative ease on the feet, the chunky heel offers much more stability than narrow heels. (As with other styles, try to buy shoes in the afternoon after feet have had time to swell from the day’s activities. Buying shoes when feet are at their largest will ensure the best possible fit.)

Peep Toes. While offering versatility from the board meeting to the office party, peep toe shoes can cause toes to slip forward and make them overlap, pushing nail edges into the skin — which can form an ingrown toenail. Avoid this by staying away from peep toes that are too tight. Also be sure there are no seams near the toe area that will place further pressure on toes.

Platforms and Wedges. For better stability, go for lower platforms and wedges that have secure ankle straps. Also look for cork material bottoms to enhance shock absorption – as well as traction for slippery conditions.

Ballet Slippers. While avoiding some of the problems caused by wearing high heels, the ballet flat can be punishing on the arch and heel. Their thin soles often provide inadequate cushioning and support, and can result in heel and arch pain. Avoid choosing a pair that can bend in half and don’t wear for long periods of time.

Flip-flops. This popular summer staple can also be the cause of blistering and other foot pain. Select a pair that has at least some support and is unable to bend in half. And look for a style made of natural materials, such as soft leather. Finally, make sure your foot doesn’t hang off the edge. Suffer from heel pain? If so, you should probably pass on the flops.

Sources: Journal of Experimental Biology; American Podiatric Medical Association; LiveScience ; HealthDay News

Photo ©iStockphoto.com/ Aldo Murillo

Fitness for your feet
Walk away your pounds
Anti-aging makeup