“I cannot tell you how bad your feet will get in the future if you don’t bother helping yourself now, and if you’re already in pain and decide not to do anything about it, I guarantee things will only get worse with time. This is not to scare you, but to emphasize how important your feet are and teach you to look at your feet in a different way than you may have before.”
— Dr. Sara Johnson, chiropractic physician
Dr. Johnson’s message summarizes much of what I’ve been pondering since my #HeelFree campaign began: the importance of foot care and how seldom we, as a culture, tend to consider it.
The average woman in the U.S. spends around $25,000 on shoes in her lifetime. If she gets bimonthly pedicures, she’ll spend about $1,345 per year on prettying up her toes. Time and money invested in protecting her feet from damage? Not shockingly, I couldn’t find a study on that. I’m guessing very little. Chance she’ll suffer to some degree as a result? Pretty darn high.
Why all of this is the case became pretty obvious as I delved into my personal history and the history of heels overall. In short, we’re all taught that high heels are sexy, attractive and practically essential in certain situations. As a result, we tend to feel more confident wearing them.
Here’s a little secret: Our legs don’t need to be elongated, clenched or upheld at a particular angle to be beautiful and perfect as they are. No “buts” about it.
No one seems to say that, so I’m not going to stop saying it. (You should’ve seen the clerk’s face at the grocery store just now…)
As I’ve mentioned, my goal is not to shun anyone who wears or makes high heels, but to encourage more women to think about these factors. With knowledge, we can make our own informed decisions. Part of that knowledge is understanding the risks.
Common Risks of High Heels (2″ or higher)
♦ Your feet contain 25% of your bones. (WOAH, right?) Stress or misalignment of any of these bones or the surrounding tendons, ligaments or muscles can affect the rest of your body.
♦ So it’s no wonder that high heels are the leading cause of foot pain and injury in women.
♦ Because heels change the way you walk, placing added strain on various bones, they commonly cause knee, back and hip pain as well. They may also up your risk for osteoarthritis of the knee—a type more common in women than men.
♦ Over time, high heels can shorten the muscles in your back and calves, causing more pain plus, potentially, stiffness and muscle spasms.
♦ Frequent wearing can shorten your Achilles tendon, which could contribute to tendinitis, shin splints and plantar fasciitis.
♦ Along with pain comes inflammation, the root cause of many diseases. High heels can also make pain and inflammation from other causes throughout your body worse.
♦ Pain and inflammation tend to have emotional consequences, too, so heels can cause heightened stress, anxiety, depressive moods and mental fatigue.
♦ Pressure from high heels on the nerves in your feet can trigger numbness and pain in your toes.
♦ High heel-wearing negatively affects your walk even when you remove them and go barefoot, shows research. This is because of heels shorten leg muscle fibers, increasing strain on your calves.
♦ Up to one-third of high heel wearers suffer permanent residual problems.
♦ One-third of women who wear high heels at least three times per week have reportedly fallen while wearing them—complications of which are on the rise. High heel-related injuries, including broken bones, doubled between 2002 and 2012.
And yet, almost no one suggests not wearing them.
I find it interesting that virtually no articles on high heel risks suggest giving them up as a viable way to prevent or minimize these problems. Most simply suggest cutting back on how often you wear them and lowering the height—I’m guessing because they realize that for many women, giving them up is simply not perceivable. Or maybe my friend Scott was right: they’re concerned about losing profit. (Heels bring them loads of business.)
No one should tell us what to wear, of course, but shouldn’t they at least mention that bypassing heels is not only an option, but the surest way to prevent high heel side effects? Otherwise, it’s a bit like saying, “It’s okay to wear pants so tight you can barely breathe, just don’t wear them daily” for less abdominal angst, or, “Look both ways when you cross the street, most of the time,” for lower risks of falling or getting hit by a car.
Trust me, I’m glad there’s plenty of information out there for high heel fans to wear them more safely. I just wish women were encouraged to consider comfortable, health-promoting shoes without any sense that doing so might end their world, style- or confidence- wise.
Many women who switch to lower shoes do so because they’ve already experienced problems or can’t wear heels for health reasons. Huge kudos for that. Many women keep on wearing heels anyway. But there’s also this little thing called prevention. I’m a fan.
We really can feel confident without heels. It may take effort for some of us (it has for me), but it’s worthy. There’s serious strength in feeling strong and authentic as we are, no shape/height/weight altering devices required. As a bonus, the less we rely on high heels, the lower our risks become for crippling our feet and bodies over time.
To learn more about high heel risks, click the hyperlinks throughout this post.
More related links:
Standing with Confidence: Body Image, Height and High Heels – a post I wrote for the National Eating Disorders Association
Why I Won’t Wear High Heels Ever Again, via XOXO Jane
Science Weighs in on High Heels, via the New York Times
How to Cultivate “Belly Out” Self-Confidence, on Girl Boner® Radio
Were you aware of these risks? Which have you experienced? If you wear heels, what do you love about them? What are your favorite flats? I love hearing from you! ♥
PS Check out my new #HeelFree Pinterest board for resources and links to gorgeous, comfy heel alternatives.