Proved By Science: Wearing High Heels Can Damage Leg Tendons

By Joseph Calamia | July 16, 2010 10:24 am

heelHigh heel wearers likely guessed it: Walking around on your tiptoes isn’t great for your calf muscles. Researchers looking at leg sonograms of women who frequently wear 2-inch or higher heels found that these women had calf muscle fibers that were an average of 13 percent shorter than their flat-wearing counterparts.

The small study, published yesterday in the Journal of Experimental Biology, has given some credence to complaints of lasting pain even after the pumps come off.

Anecdotally it has long been said that regularly wearing high heels shortens the calf muscle. Study leader Professor Marco Narici, from Manchester Metropolitan University, said in the 1950s secretaries who wore high heels complained that they struggled to walk flat-footed when they took their shoes off. [BBC]

From a group of 80 women, the researchers chose 11 women who had frequently worn two-inch or higher heals over the past two years and complained of pain when they weren’t wearing the shoes. MRI scans showed no difference in the calf muscle length of these women, but sonograms did. Sonograms showed that the Achilles’ tendons were stiffer, making it difficult for the calf muscles to stretch when the women were not wearing their heels.

“This confirmed the hypothesis that when you place the muscle in a shorter position, the fibres become shorter,” said Prof Marco Narici, who led the study. “We found the Achilles’ tendon was the same length in the two groups, but in women who wore high heels it was much thicker and stiffer, making it harder for them to stretch their feet out when they were on the flat.” [The Telegraph]

The researchers say that this doesn’t mean that heel-wearers should give up their favorite shoes entirely. They suggest stretching exercises and switching now and again from stilettos to other shoes.

Fortunately, only die-hard fashionistas appear to be at risk. Discomfort “will primarily occur in women wearing almost exclusively high-heeled shoes,” says [coauthor Robert] Csapo. In the study, the women who experienced pain wore heels for an average of about 60 hours a week. [CNN]

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Image: flickr / Herr Bert

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine
  • Greg Oxnard

    My response would be to say “Specialist subject the b****y obvious”. I hope we aren’t funding Prof Narici to come up with such banal conclusions. For many years Alexander teachers have understood the psycho-mechanical effects resulting from women wearing high heels. Wearing high heels throws the wearer forward, out of balance, causing the calfs to work hard to prevent her from falling over (hence the shortening/stiffening of the calfs). The contraction of the calfs is accompanied by a corresponding bracing backward of the legs/knees. This results in a pulling forward of the pelvis (because the front of the large leg muscles are attached to the iliac spines at the front of the pelvis), resulting in a compensatory arching of the back. Apart from the strain imposed on the back, the arching action causes the wearer to raise the rib cage and tighten the neck muscles in order to stay in balance. Look at the sergeant major at attention to see the whole compensatory mechanism in action. This is a “whole body” effect – a chain of compensatory muscle pulls and bodily distortions which takes place automatically, keeping the person upright against gravity. For those who wish to see scientific research – carried out decades ago, may I recommend Basmajian’s “Neurophysiology of Postural Mechanisms”, or “Muscles Alive” by the same author. Since it is empirically true that wearing high heels shortens the muscles, and since we know that this shortening is due to activity within the muscle fibers, why in God’s name do we need another “expert” to reiterate that fact in relation to the wearing of high heels? Money for old – shortened – rope, I’d say.

  • Idlewilde

    I never wear heels…on special occasions, I wear doc martens…

  • Crow

    I wear moccasins.

  • Mike

    My mother tells this story from her childhood in the 1930s: Her fashion-following aunts usually wore high heels. But when they visited Mammoth Cave in Kentucky, they had to take the off and wear slippers. They could hardly walk in those flats. They were in great pain from the sudden stretching of their heels-shortened calf muscles.

  • CaliforniaDreaming

    I can’t help but feel a bit vindicated. I prefer flats and Docs, too, and can’t count how often I’ve been told that I should wear ‘some nice heels’ to ‘dress up’ what I’m wearing. Or worse, that pumps or heels are somehow an integral part of the socially accepted uniform required to look ‘polished/professional/sexy/whatever’.

    I personally fail to see how somebody shoving a wooden block under the backs of their feet to force themselves up on tiptoe came to be considered ‘sexy’.

    It’s on par with wearing a shirt with built-in obstructions beneath your armpits, so that you can’t lower your arms completely. Oh, yeah, baby, that’s SO hot.


  • Lee

    And that not mentioning the injuries from falling with such torture devices on their feet.

  • Blankman

    #1- If people got the message decades ago, they would not need to get the refresher.. Good rope.

    I work trade shows with so many women that didn’t need the anatomy tutorial either. They still wear heels, and walk on bunions because they are so insecure about their appearances.

    It’s like Carl’s Juniors footlong burger roll out, on the heels of nutritional information mandated on packaging.

  • tontoadam

    the first posting says it all: High heels force a woman’s figure into an exaggerated pose that is sexually signaling: Breasts are forced higher due to raising the chest, buttocks are more pronounced as a result of the increased curvature of the lower back. It’s all about physical sexual norms created and perpetuated by people who want to sell something. Both sexes have ignored pain and long-term physical damage in provocative displays for eons.

  • stealth grow box

    i just got my new stiletos in! I am lovin them even though my feet don’t!

  • u598147

    I just retired after 35 years of high heels 6 days a week. I switched from banking to gardening. After only 3 weeks of sneakers my legs hurt so bad I can hardly stand up. How long will it take to stop hurting?

  • heather ward

    i have worn heels for about 15 years since i am only 5 ft. tall. i havent been to doctor, but for a while now when i take my shoes off in evening and prop my feet up the back of my legs behind my knees and also my ankles feel so uncomfortable like they need to be stretched somtimes straightening my leg and bouncing it helps give some relief for some time i used to shove my foot under the couch cushion with toe pointed and weight on cushion to offer releif. it is worse on my left leg because the right foot was turned in when baby. cast was put on it as a baby and it looks fine now but when i walk i turn my left foot outward to compensate. my husband and i thought the ankle and leg problems where due to poor circulation until recently. recently he told me the discomfort is in my tendons. he suggested for me to switch to flats. i have been in flats for a week now and they cause me severe pain in my shins when i walk. also i have always had trouble in finding shoes/boots in the winter that will properly fit because my arch seems to be oversized on top and bottom of foot. even tennis shoes are too tight across the top of my feet. when i was a baby my uncle a retired foot doctor put the cast on my foot that was turned inward. recently a friend told me that a podiatrist doesnt specialize in the bones of the foot and that someone else should have treated it. the other doctor was going to put a brace on it. but my uncle opted for the cast. even today the foot is slightlty longer in length than the other or at least appears that way. im afraid that the damage in my legs from heels may be permanant. if so then what is the point in wearing flats that is now killer on my shins if it wont repair the damage? i can run in heels or clogs and have no pain, only discomfort at night. but switching to flat has been quite a pain!! Please respond to thank you for your response, signed, Painful.

  • heather ward

    wearing clogs and heels has cause the backs of my knees and ankles to be uncomfortable at night when propped up. they feel that they need stretched. pointing my toe and bobbing the legs gives some comfort. recently i have switched to flats after wearing heels and clogs for the past 15 years since i am only 5 foot. wearing flats cause my shins a lot of pain when walking opposed to i can run in heels with no problem. im worried if the discomfort from the heels is permanant. if so why torture myself in pain switching to flats if the damage is not reversable. im about to switch back to heels for some relief! i read your article. it explains so much. but doesnt say much about what to do after the calf is already shortened. also it is difficult to find flat or even boots in the winter because my arch on the bottom and top of foot is oversized. even shoes are too tight across the top of my foot!!


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