High Heels: High Risk? | Almanac.com

High Heels: High Risk?

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Are high-heeled shoes good for you—or harmful to your bodies? Why do people wear high heels, anyway?

My daughter Molly came home from elementary school one day and announced they’d had a substitute teacher, because (let’s call her) “Miss Robertson was in the hospital with a kidney infection she got from wearing high heels.”

It’s true, every time I’d seen Miss Robertson, she’d been wearing high heels. But had they caused a kidney infection? Maybe … but probably not.

High Heels and Health

Many articles in the popular press have suggested that wearing high heels causes postural changes (lordosis ) that in turn could lead to bladder and kidney infections, but published research on the topic is equivocal—it leans both ways.

However, a substantial body of research does show that wearing high heels, especially for long periods, alters balance and stability, reduces range of movement in lower-body muscles and joints, causes a raft of musculoskeletal injuries (including chronic foot damage), and may worsen bunions and osteoarthritis, provoke venous hypertension in the lower limbs, and even cause neck pain.  

The whole social history of high-heel wearing is vaguely reminiscent of the of the cruel Chinese practice of foot-binding and the tight corsets of the Victorian era. 

Any woman who’s ever worn pointy-toed stiletto heels knows the instant relief of kicking them off, which is why you often see prom queens and brides dancing barefoot. 

High Heels in the News

The matter came up recently when a petition brought by a young British woman sent home from work without pay for not following the company’s dress code. The strength of the petition required Parliament to debate whether corporate dress codes could require women to wear high heels.

One British newspaper reported:

The [Parliamentary committee investigating the complaint] said it had heard from hundreds of women “who told us about the pain and long-term damage caused by wearing high heels for long periods in the workplace, as well as from women who had been required to dye their hair blond, to wear revealing outfits and to constantly reapply makeup.”

The College of Podiatry told the committee that women who wear high heels for long periods have “reduced balance, reduced ankle flexion and weaker muscle power in the calf” and are prone to disabling pain.

Perhaps you or someone you care about can’t imagine life without high heels for work, dancing, or just getting around. Would knowing more about pain and musculoskeletal damage make you or them switch to flatter, more stable footwear?

Maybe, but knowing the facts probably won’t move shoe designers and female fashionistas in that direction anytime soon.

Why Do People Wear High Heels?

In a nutshell, studies have shown that men find heel-wearing women more desirable and attractive than (even the same) women wearing flat shoes.  Men are even more willing to help women wearing high heels than those wearing flats.

One reason: “Biomechanical analyses revealed that wearing high heels led to increased femininity of gait, including reduced stride length and increased rotation and tilt of the hips.”


About The Author

Margaret Boyles

Margaret Boyles is a longtime contributor to The Old Farmer’s Almanac. She wrote for UNH Cooperative Extension, managed NH Outside, and contributes to various media covering environmental and human health issues. Read More from Margaret Boyles

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