The most obvious danger when wearing high heels is the risk of trips and falls, which can lead to twists or sprains in the joints of the foot. If worn for a long time, high heels can also cause back pain and hip pain from having to stand on tiptoes and strain the muscles in your feet. Wearing high heels changes your posture, putting it in a similar position as if you were falling forwards towards the ground. The body, therefore, tries to compensate for this by bending backward at the back and the hips, to find a point of balance and to stand tall without toppling over. In turn, this means that the back and hips are doing much of the heavy lifting when walking, which over time can cause pain in these areas.
Additionally, wearing high heels has an impact on some of the most important joints in the body, such as the knees. Are you one of the many women, for example, who have felt a cutting pain and a popping or grinding sound in the knee when walking up and down stairs in high heels? If you have, it means that your high heels are already causing problems for your knees, because they are caving under the pressure of walking up and down the stairs when they should really be absorbing the impact of each step. Unfortunately, the more you wear high heels, the more your knees will suffer, because it is the knees that are supposed to carry your weight and absorb shocks when walking. When you wear high heels for a long time, it causes knee pain due to inflammation of the patellar cartilage (kneecap) from the frequent rubbing of bone on bone. Because wearing high heels causes the muscles at the front of the legs to become weak and deficient, the kneecap is no longer held firmly in place, and this, in turn, causes instability in the knee causing its surrounding cartilage to begin degenerating long before it should.
There are several types of treatment for inflamed knee cartilage, and if the inflammation is not severe, then surgery is not necessary. Taking anti-inflammatory medication and undergoing physical rehabilitation can help the knee to recover, but if the inflammation is severe and does not improve after initial treatment, then surgery may be necessary. In such cases, we will have to look at exactly where the inflammation is and what is causing it. If it is that the cartilage has become rough and is causing abrasion and obstruction of the joint, then we may have to perform surgical treatment to trim and re-smoothen the cartilage so that it does not obstruct the joint. Some people ignore the inflammation for a long time until it causes the joint to degenerate and become weak and brittle. In such cases, trimming surgery is required to remove the affected cartilage and stimulate the body to rebuild it. This type of treatment takes much longer than if the body were to naturally replace its soft tissue, so I would strongly advise patients not to let their knee pain reach that stage.
The most important part of the treatment program is to undergo physical rehabilitation and to help rebuild and strengthen the lower leg muscles through exercise. This will prevent repeat injury and reduce the risk of inflammation in the joint.
Many people may wonder whether wearing high heels is really that dangerous. Should they just stop wearing them altogether or change to flats or slippers? This is understandable, but it is also true that wearing flat shoes can easily cause inflammation. This is because doing a lot of walking in flat shoes causes the Achilles tendon at the back of the foot to become taut and strained and can cause pain. So, it is best to take the middle path and make sure that your heels are not too high and not too short – that they are just right. Most importantly, however, keep exercising and make sure to stay in shape, because being overweight will also increase your risk of knee problems.
If you are going to wear high heels, they should not be too high – no more than 1-2 inches. If you are going to be sitting at a desk or walking around at work, make sure you take a spare pair of flats to change into so that you don’t have to be straining up on your tiptoes all day. In this way, you can give your feet a rest now and then. Keep exercising and keep using your thigh muscles to strengthen them for when they are needed. And when you arrive back home, apply warm water to your feet and give yourself a foot massages to help them relax. This will also improve the circulation in your feet.
By taking these simple steps, you can be happy and rest assured that you are wearing your high heels safely and beautifully too.
M.D., Faculty of Medicine Rangsit University, 2003.