Tuesday, March 12, 2013

High Heels: The Price We Pay for Fashion

High heels are pretty, but our feet pay the price
Image: Shutterstock
One of my favorite shows to watch with my girlfriends during college was Sex and the City. All us girls would get together, grab a bottle of wine and some chocolate, and sit down for a few laughs at the crazy lives and misfortunes of all the show’s main characters. Like so many other viewers, sometimes we’d gush over Carrie’s fashionable getups and other times we’d shake our heads and groan in horror.

What IS she wearing?

She’s got the black bra on under a sheer white shirt again!

I want that dress!

But one thing we never booed were actress Sarah Jessica Parker’s choice of footwear. We’d ooh and aah at her signature heels, more often than not Manolo Blahniks. We’d stare in disbelief as she ran down the streets in heels, never seeming to feel the pain I always associate with them.

We’d say things like, Oh my God! How can she run in those? I can’t believe she didn’t just fall down!

Sarah Jessica Parker's high heeled days are (mostly) over
Image: Featureflash / Shutterstock.com
For Parker’s six seasons and two movies playing Carrie Bradshaw, she literally lived in heels. After a decade of doing so, her feet got fed up. She slipped and twisted her ankle a few times while filming I Don’t Know How She Does It wearing cheap heels in 2011, and after a visit to the doctor, she’s had to mostly give up a life where she’s three inches taller than normal.

“I went to a foot doctor and he said, ‘Your foot does things it shouldn’t be able to do. That bone there… You’ve created that bone. It doesn’t belong there,’” Parker said.

“The moral of the story is, the chickens are coming home to roost. It’s sad, because my feet took me all over the world, but eventually they were like, ‘You know what, we are really tired, can you just stop—and don’t put cheap shoes on us?’”

For one of the world’s biggest high heels icons, the diagnosis must be tough. But it’s not any different than the ones millions of women put themselves at risk for by constantly putting themselves through Foot Hell. There’s a reason heels hurt when you’re not used to them—it’s because they do unnatural things to your feet, things that shouldn’t be done all day, every day.

I’m all for wearing heels for special occasions. I love the way they look, and there’s just a dressed-up feel that you simply can’t get with flats. But I try to keep my heel-wearing to special occasions only, since they do a number of bad things to your body over time:

High heels put extra pressure on parts of our bodies that weren't meant to take it. This can cause serious foot damage.
Heels can damage our toes, feet, ankles, legs, and knees
  1. The Patella (inside of the knee) has up to 26% excess force placed on it when women wear heels. This is a common location in women for osteoarthritis.
  2. Posture is worse when wearing heels because the spine and hips are placed out of alignment when body mass shifts forward. The pressure on the pad of the foot goes up by 22% for 1-inch heels, 57% for 2-inch heels, and 76% for 3-inch heels.
  3. Heels make our calf muscles contract, which over time can mean those muscles become shorter and tighter.
  4. Wearing heels too much can result in Morton’s Neuroma, which is a thickening of the tissue on a nerve between the third and fourth toes. This can cause numbness or pain in the toes.
  5. The Achilles tendon is tightened and shortened by wearing heels, and over time this can cause pain in the heel of the foot.
  6. Bunions can occur when heels are too tight fitting around the pad and toes of the foot. A bony growth can form on the joint around the base of the big toe, forcing it to angle inwards and causing foot pain.
  7. Another bony growth is called Haglund’s deformity. This can happen at the back of the heel and is from rubbing from straps or the back of the shoe.
  8. Hammertoes happen when we wear those fashionable pointy-toed heels. Our toes are forced together in a bent position, and over time toe muscles weaken and become unable to straighten the toes.
  9. Metatarsalgia happens when we get pain in the ball of the foot from wearing heels for long periods of time.
  10. Don’t forget about ankle injuries that happen when we twist our ankles or fall like Sarah Jessica Parker did. Damage can be permanent, depending on how serious the fall is.

The moral of the story for those of us who haven’t ruined our feet quite yet? Save the heels for special occasions. Make it a rare treat. Don’t torture your feet, or you’ll likely spend years paying for it. 

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