Killer heels

Why this may literally be true.


We love a high heel. They're stylish, pretty, and they make us look taller and our legs look longer. What's not to like?


Well the main thing is what they do to our bodies. The pain of sore feet is something every wearer of high heels is familiar with, but if only it stopped there.


The Foot Collective has some very informative posts about feet and why high heels - or indeed shoes of any kind - are bad for us, and they're worth a read if you have the time. One of the things I didn't know until I read their site was that our feet are magically designed to send our brains signals about the ground below us. When they get compressed into cushioned shoes it prevents them from sensing the ground and creates nasty upstream effects for our bodies. Did you know that 25% of the bones in our bodies are in our feet? There are also 33 joints and over 100 muscles, tendons and ligaments; significantly more than any other part of your body. That begins to suggest how complex, and how biologically important, feet are. There's an old saying 'no foot, no horse' and it's equally true of humans. If your feet don't work, you'll be in a wheelchair and classified officially as disabled.


If you think about it for a moment you'll realise that we are the only creatures on the planet who walk upright on two feet. Yes birds are bipedal but their principle means of transportation is usually flight, with one or two notable exceptions, and they don't stand upright. And quite a few birds can only hop. Walking is a very complicated thing to do even on bare feet - think how long it takes to learn how to do it. We can send people into space but we can't design a robot that can walk like a human can. Then we shove shoes, and particularly high heels, into the mix.


I've stolen the following list of Things that are Bad about Shoes from The Foot Collective:

  • A higher heel than forefoot: usually done to slip a pancake of cushioning under the heel, it shortens our heel cords. No wonder so many people have tight calves and Achilles issues are running wild.

  • Too much structural assistance: a shoe that holds up the arch of your foot will eventually weaken your natural muscles that play that role – a big part of why so many people have pronated (turned outwards) or flat feet. No arch support = the muscles of your feet need to work to create your natural arch. (The arch of your foot actually comes from your hip).

  • Too narrow: Squishing your foot into a skinny shoe compresses everything laterally and prevents the natural splay of your foot when standing that gives you better balance and position sensing of the ground.

  • Unnecessary cushioning: This is a big one. Attaching a big slab of squishy stuff under the heel of a shoe does a few things. 1) it places your calf in a shortened position, 2) it numbs your sensory feedback from the ground, 3) It promotes heel striking because its width shortens the contact distance to the ground, 4) it takes away the natural feedback correction to proper running.

To explain this last point – Its easy to run crappy in cushioned shoes, much harder when you're barefoot. If you have a big slab of squishy stuff between your heel and the ground it becomes very easy to heel strike and allow for a strong hard impact on the back of your foot with each landing. Try doing that barefoot – you won't do it for long because its pretty painful. The pain from heel striking is what moulds your running technique to take advantage of the natural elasticity in your Achilles and use that as a spring. Using the spring in your body is much more efficient because you are simply storing and releasing energy instead of only relying on muscular effort. Not only is heel striking inefficient (you basically put the brakes on with every step), it's also quite harmful to your body. Your heel might not be painful but those impact forces get translated upstream to your shins, knee, hip, low back and all the way to your neck."


So that's just your feet. Let's consider the rest of your body.


How many of you look at shoes with higher heels than you're used to and say 'I couldn't walk in those!' You're right. And people who do, shouldn't be. It's a testament to how amazing our bodies are that we're capable of doing it at all.


Look at the posture of this lady in her amazing heels.


Walking in high heels prevents your feet flexing as they're designed to do, so they can't absorb the impact of your feet on hard surfaces (which we're also not designed for). This means your knees, which are a weak point anyway structurally speaking, take more stress and strain than they should. And in heels they'll be bent, as you can see here, which adds to the additional load they're taking. You take smaller steps, so your hips are tight. The curve in her lower back will increase pressure on her lumbar spine and probably give her pain in her gleuts (butt cheeks) and quadratus lumborum muscle, which is the one across the small of your back.


She's also tipped forwards a bit because her weight is on her toes, which are probably being squashed into the front of those shoes. One of the prime directives your brain operates under is that your eyes should be level, so it will counteract that by tilting your head back. If you've read my blog about Text Neck you'll know that tilting your head increases the effective weight carried by your neck muscles exponentially; that's true whether it's tilted backwards or forwards, but as your head won't go back as far as it will forwards, it strains your neck muscles more to hold it in that position. That will probably give you neck pain and headaches. And to counter the effect of all that she's had to force her shoulders back so she doesn't fall flat on her face. Also she's very likely to fall off those shoes, and if she only sprains an ankle she'll be lucky.


But the shoes are SO pretty! I know this. I have an awesome collection of amazing shoes of my own, and I will regularly walk some distance in 2" heels just because they're beautiful. (I do draw a line at that height for walking - I have lots of much higher heels, but they're for sitting down days!) So I'm not saying you must throw away all your shoes of delight.


What to do?


I have a client of the shorter variety who came to me with shoulder pain, and the first thing she said to me when she came into the clinic was 'I'm not giving up my high heels'.


OK, so if heels are essential to your life, at least take them off whenever you can. Walk around the house barefoot, or in woolly socks if your feet are cold. In warm weather go out into the garden barefoot too; a bit of rough surface on your feet is good for them. Walk on gravel and pebbly beaches barefoot. Yes it will hurt at first, but you'll soon get used to it. Wear flat, wide shoes when you're walking a long way or standing for long periods. And have regular Bowen sessions to undo the harm your shoes are doing to your body.

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