Monday, June 4, 2012

Back Away from the High Heels

I was listening to my favorite program on NPR this morning, Fresh Air with Terry Gross, and her guest was Gretchen Reynolds who writes the Phys Ed column for the New York Times online. She was talking primarily about running and the latest research regarding minimal shoes, barefoot running and orthotics. Then she got to high heels. I immediately wanted to turn it off because I knew it was going to be bad news for me. I wear high heels 5 days a week for close to 50 total hours. I also wear heels if I am going out on the town, so add on a few more hours here and there. That is a lot of time for my feet to be stuck in a painful contraption we call pumps.

 Basically, Gretchen said that for a person who wears heels most of the time, the foot and leg positioning in heels sort of becomes the new default position for the joints and the structures within.  And this is not a good position. 

I found an article titled The Dangers of High Heels written by Gretchen Reynolds back in January. 

"...the scientists found that heel wearers moved with shorter, more forceful strides than the control group, their feet perpetually in a flexed, toes-pointed position. This movement pattern continued even when the women kicked off their heels and walked barefoot. As a result, the fibers in their calf muscles had shortened and they put much greater mechanical strain on their calf muscles than the control group did.

“We think that the large muscle strains that occur when walking in heels may ultimately increase the likelihood of strain injuries.”
I was listening to all of this and thinking, "Wow! This sounds like an explanation of my injuries." 

The feminist in me should probably be opposed to wearing high heels in the first place because they supposedly reduce women to a sex object by sacrificing comfort for an increase in sex appeal.  And I'm a runner, so I should be doubly opposed to footwear that can potentially hinder me from running. 

So then why does a running, feminist gal like myself choose to wear shoes that I know are detrimental to my foot health? 
  • I feel more confident and powerful in heels.
  • They make my outfits look better.
  • I feel short and stumpy when wearing anything other than heels.
  • I get jealous of other people in heels when I'm wearing flats (i.e. Shoe Envy).
  • Heels make my calves look awesome.
Good enough reasons? 

Not really.

Bottom line:  Heels contribute to muscle and joint strains.  Sure, they make you look taller and make your calves look defined and muscular, but they're not helping out on the running front. 

I suppose it's time to start the weening process.  This brings on a sort of anxiety and sense of loss, but I know it is time to back away from the heels. 


My tendons will thank me one day.

Do you wear heels to work every day? 

If so, does this information make you think twice?


  1. *sniff*

    I'll mourn with you.

    I wear heels when I go out, but at work it's tennis shoes for me!

    1. I would love to wear workout clothes to work every day. That would be the life!

  2. NOOOOO! Say it ain't so!
    I actually don't wear heels at work, since I stand all day, so maybe I'm ok?
    I do put them on for church or evenings out. I love a pretty heel!

    1. I think you're safe. And if not, then I'm really doomed!

  3. When I did work (now I am a stay at home mom) I wore heels EVERY day. I loved them!! I'm only 5'2" and worked in a mostly male environment so in flats I felt so small. Heels are just fun to shop for too! Now though since I started taking my running so seriously I wear flats daily. I can feel the difference. Heels are so tough on your ankles, calves, etc. :(

  4. I'm already 5'9" and pretty uncoordinated. I pull out heels for weddings and Halloween costumes, but that's it.

  5. I'm a personal trainer and spend my days in sneakers (or whatever fancy name you want to give them). Plus, I'm 5'8", so I hardly ever feel short. So, I rarely wear heals, and if I do I'll usually find an opportunity to slip them off and run around in my bare feet. That's my happy place.

    1. Ahhh. Sneakers. I would kill to wear sneakers all day.

  6. I'm 5'2" and always feel short, so I wore heels all the time. Then, I stopped after a few days of knee pain (I thought it was from running). Now I can't go back. Heels are so uncomfortable!

  7. Soooo jealous of the SD trail running! Man, that looks like heaven.

    Heels make certain outfits look better. And they're sexier. But they do fatigue my lower legs, which translates to twinges sometimes in trying to master the mid-foot strike. Also, since I've been doing CrossFit and trying to increase my mobility in my shoulders & upper back for most of the moves, I've found that my posture suffers in my slutty pumps. I'm trying to limit wearing them to days that I have a reason to do so.

  8. I resemble that comment :) And I actually have to give another wedding speech next week. Nearly a decade later, my masochistic family and friends still endure my ridiculous humor and taunting!

    As far as heels - can't do 'em. I work as a management consultant though and will sometimes wear them to really important meetings because studies have shown that women who appear taller get listened to more often. Shallow - yes. Effective - who knows.

    Honestly I'd rather be in a pair of Toms or New Balance.

  9. I put heels on....hmmmm NEVER
    I have never put a pair of heels on.
    I am 5'11"..that is plenty tall enough!!!
    so I am safe!!!

  10. Yeah, I like heels, but not quite that high. I'm 5'8" so I often wear 2" heels cause I like being one of the tallest women around. How weird and bent is that??

    My Running Shortz

  11. Ah, the perks of being a nurse. Comfy, sensible shoes at all times. Not exciting but my arches thank me.

  12. I don't wear stilletos everyday but I wear some sort of a heel. I'm not very girly in general but I love wearing heels to dress things up. Since I've been running I've been thinking how heels may hinder my performance. I would consider wearing them a bit less (or wearing a shorter heel) but I don't think I could stop wearing them all together. I need them for my nights out on the town. :)

  13. I'm just under 5'0" and I don't wear heels very often. Thankfully I'm a software engineer so there isn't a whole lot of pressure to dress up. Plus, I'm too lazy. :)

  14. So funny that you bring up the feminist dilemma. It's something I was just thinking about earlier today when I slid into my trusty black flats. There's just something about wearing heels, like you said, that makes me feel more powerful and professional. I hate that that's true but it is. I can't help it. :-/

  15. I love the look of heels on other people but I feel totally awkward if wearing heels myself (unless it's a boot, even then it's alot for me). A night out on the town is my fave cydwoq flats, jeans and t shirt.
    Ps just started finally reading A Fine I can tell its going to distroy me. I've been up late the last 2 nights reading not out on the town in high heels ;) Super boring here.

  16. I have the answer...WEDGES! They give the height shorties like us need, and juuuust enough oomph to make your calves look good.

  17. I wear heels about 2 days the week (to work) and flats or wedges the others. I LOVE the look of heels and some pants just look SO MUCH BETTER with them! I've started wearing flats after and before hard workouts. I can definitely feel a difference!

  18. This is always a tough one for me (just like the flip-flop dilemma)... Thankfully, I have a job now where I can wear running shoes everyday and can save the heels for the weekend. But prior to this job, I always wore heels. I, like you, feel confident and sexy when I wear heels... but, I always took them off when I was at my desk to give my legs a break. Good luck with the no-heel transition :)

  19. Even this barefoot runner can admit to show love. Granted I don't wear heels but they do make the legs look nice. That said, I have believed that high heels contribute to all kinds of postural problems and also running related injuries.

  20. This is devastating... and I totally just look away! My grandma wore high heels all the time and had surgery on both of her feet when she was about 60... to me, it's worth it :)

  21. Feminism wise - anyone who tells you you can't/shouldn't do this or that because you're a *whatever* is telling you what to do based on who you are... not very feminist is it?? Decide whether your reasons for wanting to wear heels are reasonable to *you* and act accordingly. Everyone else can go fly a kite.
    Health wise - are you a hardline kinda person or an all things in moderation kinda person? Some people exercise a little extra because they wanted that piece of cake, maybe sometimes we can stretch a little extra because we really love how that one shoe looks with that one outfit. If that's not how you operate that's ok too, but try to remember that there are often opportunities for balances in life.

  22. I have back problems and I walk alot and am on my feet all day for work and also have a 4yo son. I wear wedge heels or boot heels and I have less back pain than if I wear my flats it's weird but I'm also very shy and when I wear heels guys notice me more I think it's just they make you feel sexy and desirable and it shows

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