High heels have health consequences

HIGH FASHION OR BIG DANGER? According to orthopedists high heels can lead to spinal and foot problems, including plantar fasciitis.

Karmela Whiteside

HIGH FASHION OR BIG DANGER? According to orthopedists high heels can lead to spinal and foot problems, including plantar fasciitis.

Karmela Whiteside, Yearbook Editor

People face dangers every day: choking, car crashes, train crashes, fires, heart attacks and natural disasters. There is even a type of shoe that can is dangerous: high heels.

Recently, a study at the University of North Carolina showed that wearing high heels may weaken ankle muscles. Some simple stilettos are proven to cause damage to a woman’s feet and lower back.

Cassidy Gregg is a 7th grade student who understands these dangers.

“I know about the health risks of high heels, but I wear them anyway,” she said. “I know they can damage your spinal cord and feet.”

Gregory Jeansonne is an Orthopedic Surgeon from New Orleans. Jeansonne owns his own private practice, where he has seen lots of trauma, mostly from people that have been injured in accidents or falls. Most traumatic injuries somehow involve feet or ankles.

“Most women who wear high heels do it because it makes them taller, it makes them appear thinner, and it actually activates the muscles in the calves, which most men find attractive,” Jeansonne said. “So, it’s mostly a cosmetic issue.”

Gregg agrees.

“I wear them because they go with my outfits,” she said.

Norie-Anne Young is an 8th grade language arts teacher who enjoys high heels.

“I do wear high heels,” she said. “I wear them because they are cute, fun, and give outfits a finished, polished look.”

Many who stop wearing high heels are trying to get more comfortable.

“When I wore high heels, I rocked them,” social studies teacher Rebekah Tipton said. “I never fell or had an injury from them. Now, it’s just a comfort thing. I don’t want sore legs and tired feet at the end of the day.”

Wearing shoes with heels can make a person’s back and feet ache. They also shift a person’s gravity forward, creating an arched back.

“If you walk around on dry concrete with a wet foot, you’ll see a footprint,” Jeansonne said. “That area of your foot imprinting on the ground is where your body weight is spread out, and if you measure that area, then it usually corresponds to a pressure of about 25 pounds per square inch.”

If somebody weighs 100 pounds, they typically have a smaller foot and therefore a smaller footprint. If they are bigger, they have a bigger foot and a bigger footprint. The end result is still that everybody puts about 25 pounds per square inch through a normal barefoot footprint.

“Now, if you put somebody up on their tiptoes, they are usually only bearing weight on the ball of their foot, which is about one fourth of the area,” Jeansonne said. “So, you go from 25 pounds per square inch to one hundred pounds per square inch. That causes a lot more wear and tear on those things that support your body weight.”

So, in high heels, wearers put at least one hundred pounds per square inch on a much smaller area of their feet.

Wearing high heels can have a negative effect on a person’s back and feet.

“Some people will slouch, some people will have good shoulder posture, but when you are up on high heels, it’s more difficult for you to properly straighten your knee,” Jeansonne said. “When it’s harder to straighten your knee, you tend to have a slightly flexed hip and that tends to put a little more stress on your lower back. When your hip is flexed, you still want to stand perfectly upright but with a flexed hip you have to put more sway in your back so that increases the stress with your lumbar spine in your low back.”

Wearing high heel shoes too much can also cause problems when the wearer tries to wear normal shoes. People who wear high heels may wear normal shoes inappropriately.

“If you twist your ankle and you start trying to walk normally in regular shoes, if one part of your ankle hurts, you may shift weight to the part that doesn’t hurt and that may cause too much stress on the uninjured part of your ankle,” Jeansonne said. “The same thing applies when you’re wearing high heels. If you do damage to the ball of your foot, you may walk on the outside part of your foot when you wear normal shoes and than that causes more stress on your lateral forefoot and ankle.”

One reason why women wear high heels is because they feel that it makes their calf muscles more attractive.

“The point of these shoes for me is to feel put together, and to give me height,” Young said. “I am only 5″4, so they make me taller. Also, from a fashion perspective, heels just look better with certain outfits and pants.”

Having tight calves can have bad side effects, too.

“When you walk without high heels, you have to stretch out your calf muscles,” he said. “You’ve probably heard of a term called “plantar fasciitis”. Well, the plantar fascia are essentially in the middle of your foot and supports a normal arch. If you allow your calf muscle to become overly tight, and instead of going down onto your heel by stretching out your calf muscle, you may actually flatten out or damage your plantar fascia and it could lead to plantar fasciitis which is a pretty difficult problem to address.”

Many people are already suffering from the effects of wearing high heels. Those people should do the high heel stretch, which is basically stretching out the back and feet everyday. A thicker heel like a wedge can help a little.

“I do think heels are worth the risk; like everything else in life, wear heels in moderation,” Young said. “I cycle heels in among wedges, flats, sneakers, etc. I don’t fear falling or rolling an ankle because I have worn them for many years.”

Jeansonne disagreed.

“Don’t wear them,” he said. “When it is socially expected, wear as low a heel as possible and look for opportunities not to wear heels.”