Many women love their high-heeled shoes, associating the elongated silhouette these shoes create with greater confidence and a heightened power of seduction. However, not everyone manages to walk safely and comfortably in heels. That’s no surprise, as they engage very different parts of the leg compared to walking barefoot.
In order to study the impact of regular high-heel wear on foot biomechanics, Australian researchers recruited nine young women who had been wearing high heels for at least 40 hours a week for a minimum of two years, and ten women who wore flats almost exclusively. The women brought their favorite pair of high-heeled shoes and underwent some walking tests, first with their heels on, and then barefoot. The researchers equipped the women with electrodes to track leg-muscle activity, while ultrasound probes measured the length of muscle fibers in their legs.
Not surprisingly, the women who regularly wore high heels walked differently from those who usually wore flats, even when the heel wearers went barefoot. The scientists were surprised at the nature and extent of the differences, however. The heel wearers moved with shorter, more forceful strides than the control group, their feet perpetually in a flexed, toes-pointed position. As a result, the fibers in their calf muscles were shortened and underwent much greater mechanical strain than in the control group. In the “flats” group, walking primarily involved stretching and using their tendons, especially the Achilles tendon, while in the heel wearers, walking mostly engaged leg muscles.
Many experts believe that the excess large-muscle strain that occurs when walking in heels may increase the likelihood of strain injuries, even when the wearer switches to flats. Also of note is that the women in this study were only 25 years old on average, which suggests that these physiological changes can occur quite rapidly.
It is recommended that high heels and stilettos be reserved for special occasions and that flats be worn the rest of the time. A nice Valentine’s Day dinner is certainly a good excuse to slip on your most alluring pair!