- High heels aren’t something new. They can be traced back to ancient Egypt (4000 BC).
- In ancient Greece heels were worn by actors and in ancient Rome around 200 BC, heels were used by sex workers.
- As part of the foot binding custom, special shoes called “lotus” were used in China. The heel of those shoes was 10 cm or 4 inches.
- During the 1400s and until mid 1600s women wore “Chopines”, which were around 76cm (30in) tall, and in order to walk the wearer needed help from servants.
- The 1500s are the years when the high heel was both practical and fashionable addition to the wardrobe. It was worn by both sexes, especially during horse riding. In 1533 the Queen Mary I of England wore high heels on regular basis.
- In the 17th century the English Parliament would punish women and try them in court as witches if they were caught wearing heels.
- During the 18th century the mistress of King Louis XV popularized slender high heels. The shoes even got a name: Pompadour heels. In 1789 Napoleon enforced the Napoleon Code in an effort to demonstrate equality among all people. No one was allowed to wear high heels.
- In America, the Massachusetts Colony banned heels and they were not seen again until the mid 19th century.
- By the end of the 19th century women wore 15 cm (6 inches) heels.
- High heels were different in every decade of the 20th century.
- The 21st century also offers a variety of heel – styles.
- The runways for spring/summer 2017 offer all kinds of shapes and sizes of heels, with ankle straps as the main trend of the season.
- For more than 250 years there have been conversations and disputes about the health problems (especially foot problems) caused by high heels.
- Wearing high heels provokes venous hypertension.
- High heels cause bunions (hallux valgus).
- High heels cause lower back problems, knee joint problems and Haglund’s deformity.
- High heels alter the anatomy of the calf muscles and tendons.
- High heels cause injuries from falling.
- Some good news: high heels can improve or “sharpen” your balance, so later in life you won’t have problems with falls.
- Tips for better walking in high heels and better health: wear heels lower than 3”; use heel cushions, shoe inserts and soft pads; don’t wear heels every day.
- Self – help tips: exercise – especially hip exercises; do foot exercises; run in the sand; exercise with the help of bands, boards and balance trainers; enjoy a foot massage; if you don’t like heels at all – don’t wear them. It’s not what everyone wears, it’s how YOU feel in your clothes and footwear!
Heels are sexy. They make your legs longer, make you feel more feminine and confident…And they ruin the feet. I own a few (ok, dozens) pairs of heels. I can’t help it – I love them. Feet hurt like hell if I wear them for more than 6 hours, but I like the way I look in them, so who cares about a pair of feet, right? Right? No?
Heels aren’t something new. No, really – they’re freaking ancient! They can be traced back to ancient Egypt (4000 BC). Ancient Egyptian murals show that heels were worn by nobilities to set them apart from the lower class, who normally walked barefoot. Heels were also worn by butchers, so that they don’t walk in the blood of the slaughtered animals. Heels were used by both sexes.
In ancient Greece, heels were worn by actors and in ancient Rome, where sex trade was legal, heels were used by the sex workers, so heels became associated with prostitution. This was around 200 BC.
As part of the foot binding custom, special shoes called “lotus” were used in China. The heel of those shoes was 10 cm or 4 inches.
Foot binding was a custom of applying painfully tight binding to the feet of young girls to prevent further growth. It became popular as a means of displaying status. The altered feet were called “lotus feet”.
In the Middle ages, both men and women wore “pattens” – these were very high wooden soles that protected their shoes from dust and mud. During the 1400s and until mid 1600s women wore “Chopines”, which have the same use as “pattens”. “Chopines” were exclusively worn by women. They were around 76cm (30in) tall, and in order to walk the wearer needed help from servants.
By Rama & the Shoe Museum in Lausanne via wikimedia commons
The 1500s are the years when the high heel was both practical and fashionable addition to the wardrobe. It was worn by both sexes, especially during horse riding. The heel prevented riders from slipping from their stirrups. The combination of fashion, high heels and practicality was first used by Catherine de Medici. It was arranged for her to marry the Duke of Orleans (later the King of France). She wasn’t very tall and the Duke liked taller women, so she used high heels to become more appealing and it worked. High heels went on to become a hit in the high society. In 1533 the Queen Mary I of England wore high heels on regular basis.
In the 17th century the English Parliament looked down upon high heels if they were worn by women to allure men into marriage. The English Parliament would even punish women and try them in court as witches if they were caught wearing heels. At this time, the Massachusetts Colony also banned high heels and prohibited women from wearing them. In France heels were not banned (of course), but there was a catch. The King – Louis XIV wore up to 13cm (5 inches) heels and no one, absolutely no one was allowed to wear higher heels than him. He also declared that red high heels can be worn by nobility. This is the time when high heels became ornamental and decorative.
During the 18th century the mistress of King Louis XV popularized slender high heels. Those shoes were incredibly difficult to walk in, and yet – as usual, the fashion spread from Paris across all Europe. The shoes even got a name: Pompadour heels. This didn’t last long, however, as the French Revolution started in 1789, and Napoleon enforced the Napoleon Code in an effort to demonstrate equality among all people. Heels were banned and people stopped wearing them, that is – until 1793, when Marie Antoinette wore them (5cm or 2 inches) to the guillotine at the time of her execution. After that the only “high” heels that were worn were 2 inch – wedges. In America, the Massachusetts Colony also banned heels and they were not seen again until the mid 19th century.
By the middle of the 19th century heels were popular again. This was the time of the Victorian era, and women would go to great lengths to make their feet seem tiny. This meant wearing really high heels. By the end of the century women wore 15 cm (6 inches) heels. Not everyone was pleased with this though, as high heels became associated with sexuality and many European religious communities and organizations banned them.
High heels were different in every decade of the 20th century:
In the first decade, the shoes had a small heel, maybe 5 cm (2 inches). The footwear of the decade was a lace up boot or bootie with a French heel.
The 1920s are the flapper era, and in this time heels were fancily decorated and slender.
During the Great Depression in the 1930s, heels became more practical – they weren’t very high and were wider.
In the 1940s heels were higher, less wide than the 1930s heels, but they weren’t slender. Also, they were very expensive, so only the rich and famous wore them.
The 1950s are the stiletto decade. Stiletto shoes are named after the stiletto dagger, which is a long slender blade with needle-like point. This decade is not the first time a stiletto – type heel was worn, however, it is the first decade in which the term “stiletto” was used. Also, in this decade a new technology was used, and the heel was either supported by a metal shaft or a stem was embedded into it.
In the 1960s women sported really flat shoes. If there was a heel, it was square and small.
Although, in the 1970s the platform heels were the most popular, women stubbornly refused to give up their stilettos, and in 1974 Manolo Blahnik reintroduced the stiletto heel and named it “The Needle”.
The 1980s were the years of toweringly high killer heels that could be found in every possible color. Stiletto shoes were still popular, but were slightly different – they were round-toed with slightly thicker (sometimes cone-shaped) semi-stiletto heel.
In the 1990s the stiletto heels almost completely disappeared. This is the decade of the thick block heels.
The 21st century also offers a variety of heel – styles.
When the 2000s kicked off, the fashion was influenced by technology. Almost every year in the 2000s offers different type of heeled footwear.
In the year 2000 the horrible wedge flip flops became popular.
Thick heels were still popular in 2001 and also sparkling shoes were that year’s madness.
The year 2002 offered two different types of footwear: either knee-high boots with spiked heels and pointed toes, or thick low heels and round or square toes.
The shoes in the year 2003 weren’t all that different from 2002.
In 2004 the extremely pointed – toe kitten heel appeared, and in my humble opinion, they are one of the ugliest shoes that ever graced our feet. I’m not talking about normally pointed – toe shoes, no, no… These suckers could stab a flea while you’re walking in them.
In 2005 high heels were replaced by ballet flats. We’re not talking about clothes, but I will mention that this is the year when the historic and amazing skinny jeans were reintroduced to the world (tight pants were worn since the 1660s).
In 2006 heels came back and they were all kinds of shapes and sizes – square and wide, thin and high, in color or black/white, jeweled or simple. Cavalier boots and cowboy boots were also very popular.
In 2007 the monstrous Crocs were very popular. Square heels disappeared from the scene and a slenderer, although still not very thin heels took their place.
In 2008 slender heels were still worn, but flat footwear reigned. Women wore riding boots, flat gladiator sandals, ballet flats and never stopped buying the unfortunate looking uggs.
The trend of the slender heel remained through the year 2009.
The second decade of the 21st century offers incredible variety in high heeled footwear.
The 2010 is the year when interesting, sculpted heels appeared on the market.
The year 2011 offered us narrow, slender and also sculpted high heels.
In 2012 Hunter rain boots became very popular. The heels of footwear were like the ones in 2010 and 2011, only this year metallic colors and sparkles were added to the mix.
In 2013 the stiletto heel came back with a vengeance, not that they were ever gone (except in the 1990s) but this time they were thinner, taller and more amazing than ever.
The same trend continued through the year 2014, and in 2015 the height of the heel started to vary. Flat footwear, especially blucher shoes were very popular and their popularity continued throughout the year 2016. The heel sizes and shapes in 2016 were of biggest variety and block heels also came back on the market.
The runways for spring/summer 2017 offer all kinds of shapes and sizes of heels with ankle straps as the main trend of the season.
Now that we’ve discussed the interesting history of high heels, I’m gonna spoil your mood with the facts of what high heels can do to your (our) feet. They can:
- cause foot and tendon pain;
- increase the likelihood of sprains and fractures;
- make calves look more rigid and sinewy;
- can create foot deformities, including hammer toes and bunions;
- can cause an unsteady gait;
- can shorten the wearer’s stride;
- can render the wearer unable to run;
- can exacerbate lower back pain;
- alter forces at the knee so as to predispose the wearer to degenerative changes in the knee joint;
- can result after frequent wearing in a higher incidence of degenerative joint disease of the knees. This is because they cause a decrease in the normal rotation of the foot, which puts more rotation stress on the knee. (1)
I’m not done with the bad news. I’m not letting you guys off the hook that easy! Time for researched facts and proof that heels are bad for our feet and health in general. If you read further, you will also read why heels are good for us. And – of course: some great tips to help you (us) walk better and spend more time in heels (if we want to wear them). So, all in good time.
For more than 250 years there have been conversations and disputes about the health problems (especially foot problems) caused by high heels, but there have never been any data from any studies to officially validate these issues.
A survey has found that after one hour, six minutes and 48 seconds heels start to hurt. Women have approximately four times as many foot issues as men do, and many of those issues are contributed to the wearing of high heels. Foot problems aren’t the only issues women have.
WEARING HIGH HEELS PROVOKES VENOUS HYPERTENSION
According to a study, conducted by the Division of Vascular and Endovascular Surgery at the University of São Paulo in Brazil, high heels reduce muscle pump function and the continuous use of high heels tends to provoke venous hypertension in the lower limbs and may represent a causal factor of venous disease symptoms. (2)
Another study has concluded that the wearer’s experience in wearing high heels doesn’t provide many health advantages. The only thing that is different between groups of experienced high heel wearers and not so experienced wearers (provided that they don’t stumble from their heels on every few seconds) is better directional control. (3)
HIGH HEELS CAUSE BUNIONS (HALLUX VALGUS)
One of the most significant and pathological foot problem caused by wearing high heels are of course – bunions or hallux valgus. Hallux valgus (bunion) turns the toe out of the mid-line of the body axis and around the great toe there is a red-swollen and very painful sensation on the inside of the foot. There are many causes for hallux valgus including hereditary predispositions, but the primary cause is wearing of high heeled shoes for a longer period of time. (4)
There are some ways to control bunions, but ultimately podiatrists will recommend surgery. Things you can do, to ease your suffering are:
- maintain a normal weight.
- Protect the bunion with a moleskin or gel-filled pad. You can buy it at a drugstore.
- Use shoe inserts to help position the foot correctly. These can be over-the-counter arch supports or prescription orthotic devices.
- Under a doctor’s guidance, wear a splint at night to hold the toe straight and ease discomfort.
- Take non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.
- Use warm soaks, ice packs, ultrasound and massage.
- Buy well-fitting footwear that are wide in the toe area. (5)
HIGH HEELS ALTER THE ANATOMY OF THE CALF MUSCLES AND TENDONS
The more feet are forced into a position of wearing heels, the more the calf muscle fibers will shorten. The higher the heel, the bigger the body’s incline, greatly increasing the weight concentrated on the ball of the foot. That means wearing a 7cm (3 in) heel concentrates double the body’s weight on this area. Problems can show up after just six months wearing heels. (4)
HIGH HEELS AND FALLING
A new study has shown that nearly 40% of women who wear high heels have experienced an accident – tripping, getting the heel caught in a groove in the ground, sprained, twisted or broken ankle, etc…
We’ve all ran in heels, let’s be honest, but whenever we run (or even walk), there’s always a possibility that this kind of injury will happen sooner or later. I’m very aware of this, so every time I have a lot of walking or running, good ol’ flats (or Converse) never fail me.
HIGH HEELS AND KNEE JOINTS
A study examined the effects of increased heel height and gait velocity on balance control and knee joint position sense, and found that increased walking speed in high heels produced significant negative effects on knee joint sense and balance control. (6)
Another study showed a large increase in bone-on-bone forces in the knee joint caused by high-heeled walking, which may explain the higher incidence of osteoarthritis in the knee joint in women as compared with men. (7)
HIGH HEELS AND LOWER BACK PROBLEMS
A study was made on young and middle aged women who wore high heels on a daily basis. It found that increased lumbar erector spinae muscle (the muscle that rotates the back) activity associated with wearing high-heeled shoes could aggravate muscle overuse and lead to low back problems. The lower pelvic range of motion associated with wearing high heels in middle-aged women may indicate that tissues in the lumbopelvic region become more rigid with age, and that the harmful effect of high-heeled shoes on posture and spinal tissues may be more pronounced with advancing age. (8)
Spondylolisthesis, or the slippage of one vertebra forward over another, frequently occurs as a result of wearing high heels, especially in the lumbar region of the spine (the lower back) where the body’s weight is concentrated. Each foramen (opening) is created by the natural space between two stacked vertebrae, and foraminal stenosis with nerve compression may ultimately develop as a direct result of vertebral slippage. (9)
Blue arrow shows normal pars interarticularis
Red arrow shows brake in pars interarticularis.
Foraminal stenosis in the lower back can cause symptoms of acute pain, in addition to numbness, tingling, muscle weakness, spasms, cramping and pain that scatters through the buttocks and down the legs. (9)
Sciatica, caused by the compression of the sciatic nerve (this is the nerve that begins in the lower back and runs through the buttock and down the lower limb), is a term that is often associated with this particular set of lower-body symptoms. (9)
HIGH HEELS AND HAGLUND’S DEFORMITY
Haglund’s deformity was first described by Patrick Haglund in 1927. It is a very common clinical condition, but still poorly understood. Haglund’s deformity is an abnormality of the bone and soft tissues in the foot. An enlargement of the bony section of the heel (where the Achilles tendon is inserted) triggers this condition. The soft tissue near the back of the heel can become irritated when the large, bony lump rubs against rigid shoes (for example a high heeled shoe). (10)
Treatment of this condition requires surgery or injecting the retrocalcaneal bursa (that’s the back of the ankle by the heel) with medication to relieve the pain combined with modifications in daily shoe wear. (11)
Other ways to relieve this Haglund’s deformity are:
- wear appropriate shoes; avoid shoes with a rigid heel back;
- use arch supports or orthotic devices;
- perform stretching exercises to prevent the Achilles tendon from tightening;
- avoid running on hard surfaces and running uphill. (12)
WHY ARE HIGH HEELS GOOD FOR US?
Why should we suffer? What do high heels do for us? Well, they:
- add height.
- Empower women.
- Draw attention.
- Enhance confidence.
- Accentuate legs.
- Spice up the bedroom game.
- Make many women feel sexier.
- And – according to one doctor’s thesis (Christopher Walker) at the Royal Liverpool University Hospital, wearing heels can improve or “sharpen” your balance, so later in life you won’t have problems with falls. (13)
TIPS FOR BETTER HIGH HEEL WALKING AND BETTER HEALTH
- Wear heels that are max. 7.5cm (3in) high and not higher than that. Higher heels should be worn on rare occasions, because they will change the biomechanics of your walking.
- Thicker heels are more stable, just to make a note of that. I’m not gonna say that you should wear thicker heels only, because I wouldn’t listen to me either. It’s just not gonna happen – it’s that simple. But I will stick to the advice above (3” heels).
- Wear your heels, don’t let your heels wear you! This means: shoulders back, chest out! And don’t forget – place your heel on the ground first.
- Do not wear high heels every day. Mix it up.
- Use heel cushions, shoe inserts and soft pads – these will lessen the impact of the foot hitting the pavement.
LAST BUT NOT LEAST: SOME SELF – HELP TIPS
- Exercise – especially hip exercises. There are some great exercises online or on YouTube.
- Do foot exercises with a little ball: roll it under the ball, arch and heel of your foot for a couple of minutes.
- Run in the sand. Running in sand is a great way to increase the strength and flexibility in your feet. This may not be possible for those who don’t have an access to a beach, though.
- Exercise with the help of bands, boards and balance trainers.
- Enjoy a foot massage.
- If you don’t like heels at all – don’t wear them. It’s not what everyone wears, it’s how YOU feel in your clothes and footwear!
So, that’s it for this week. See you on our next journey together!
- Wikipedia. Online Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/High-heeled_footwear (29.12.2016).
- W.T. Filho, N.R.A. Dezzotti, E.E. Joviliano, T. Moriya, C.E. Piccinato: Influence of high-heeled shoes on venous function in young women. Journal of Vascular Surgery. 56. (4). 2012: 1039–1044. Online Source: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0741521412001176 (29.12.2016).
- V.D. Hapsari and S. Xiong: Effects of high heeled shoes wearing experience and heel height on human standing balance and functional mobility. Ergonomics. 59. (2). 2016. Online Source: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/00140139.2015.1068956 (29.12.2016).
- J. Domjanić, D. Ujević, B. Wallner & H. Seidler: Increasing Women’s Attractiveness: High Heels, Pains and Evolution – A GMM Based Study. 8th. International Textile, Clothing & Design Conference – Magic World of Textiles (October 02. to 05 2016), Dubrovnik, Croatia. Online Source: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/309134441_Increasing_Women’s_Attractiveness_High_Heels_Pains_and_Evolution_-_A_GMM_Based_Study (29.12.2016).
- Health Cleveland Clinic. Online Source: https://health.clevelandclinic.org/2014/12/7-ways-to-ease-your-bunions-without-surgery/ (29.12.2016).
- I.Y. Jang, D.H. Kang, J.K. Jeon, H.J. Jun, J.H. Lee: The effects of shoe heel height and gait velocity on position sense of the knee joint and balance. Journal of Physical Therapy Science. 28. (9). 2016: 2482-2485 Online Source: https://www.jstage.jst.go.jp/article/jpts/28/9/28_jpts-2016-317/_article (29.12.2016).
E.B. Simonsen, M.B. Svendsen, A. Nørreslet, H.K. Baldvinsson, T. Heilskov-Hansen, P.K. Larsen, T. Alkjær and M. Henriksen: Walking on High Heels Changes Muscle Activity and the Dynamics of Human Walking Significantly.
- A.Mika, Ł.E.Oleksy, P.Mika, A.Marchewka, B.C.Clark: The Effect of Walking in High- and Low-Heeled Shoes on Erector Spinae Activity and Pelvis Kinematics During Gait. American Journal of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation. 91. (5). 2012: 425–434. Online Sources: http://journals.lww.com/ajpmr/Abstract/2012/05000/The_Effect_of_Walking_in_High__and_Low_Heeled.7.aspx (29.12.2016).
- Laser Spine Institute. Online Source: https://www.laserspineinstitute.com/articles/foraminal_stenosis/heels/476/ (29.12.2016).
- R. Vaishya, et al.: Haglund’s Syndrome: A Commonly Seen Mysterious Condition. 8. (10). 2016: 820. Online Source: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5101401/ (29.12.2016).
- S.M. Carolyn et al.: Haglund’s Syndrome: Diagnosis and Treatment Using Sonography. HSS Journal 2. (1). 2006: 27–29. Online Source: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2504114/ (29.12.2016).
- Foot Health Facts. Online Source: https://www.foothealthfacts.org/conditions/haglund%E2%80%99s-deformity (29.12.2016).
- Telegraph. Online Source: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/personal-view/11248124/High-heels-are-good-for-you-I-knew-my-stilettos-had-a-point.html (29.12.2016).