Correcting Posture Problems Caused by High Heels
High heels, pumps, stilettos…these staples of women’s fashion go by many names. Lots of women understandably opt for high heels to add a sexy boost to their figure, creating an illusion of being taller and thinner with a lifted booty and forward-thrust hips. You may not realize that wearing them on a regular basis is hazardous to your health!
My contention is that the fashion benefits of high heels are simply NOT worth the trade-off in terms of resultant muscle imbalances, posture problems, and increased risk of injury in high heel wearers.
Keep reading to find out why this is the case, and what you can do to correct and prevent posture problems you are probably already experiencing if you wear high heels regularly.
Muscle Imbalance Basics
The body will take permanently take on characteristics of postures assumed for a long period of time. Any time the body spends extended time in an unnatural, poorly aligned position, key muscles become shortened and tight while others are lengthened and weakened. Since the body works as one functional unit, these imbalances echo throughout the whole body. When something is off somewhere in the system, the effects may be seen further along the chain of movement. This is seen in the hunch back posture and low back problems common among people with sedentary jobs or sedentary lifestyles in general. Another example is the knee problems runners and cyclists may experience due to weak glutes and/or IT band issues. In this article, we are focusing specifically on the foot, knee, and low back problems coming from the unnatural position your foot is in while you’re wearing high heels.
How do High Heels Affect the Body?
When you walk around in high heels, your foot and ankle complex is forced into an unnaturally plantarflexed position for an extended period of time. Place your body in this position for a moment to understand why this would cause problems: the toes are pointed straight down, stretching out the muscles across the top of the foot and ankle, while the Achilles tendon and calf muscles are scrunched up much more tightly than they should be. Compound the problem by adding the impact from walking plus time and you’ve got a potential problem on your hands (or should I say feet?).
A 2010 study published in the Journal of Experimental Biology found that among habitual high heel wearers, the calf muscles were shortened dramatically: up to 13%! The Achilles tendon was also observed to be thicker, tougher, and less flexible than in non-high heel wearers.
So Why Do Shortened Calf Muscles Matter?
Calf muscles affected by high heels include the gastrocnemius (upper calf), soleus (lower calf), and peroneals (outside of calf). When these muscles become short and tight, they throw off the balance of your entire postural system. You become unable to stand comfortably in a neutral foot position.
The shortened calf muscles cause the feet to become flat and externally rotated, losing their natural ability to hold an arch. This leads to overpronation, which can cause problems in the IT band among other areas. The feet are at risk of plantar fasciitis, a painful contraction of the sheet of connective tissue across the sole of the foot, as well as bone spurs and bunions.
The lengthened ankle muscles become weak, unable to properly stabilize the foot-ankle complex anymore. You are now predisposed to ankle strains and sprains. Additionally, unstable ankles lead to problems further up the chain with knee misalignment, drastically increasing the risk for knee injury.
Unstable knees pass their instability up to the hips, which affects the lower back as well. Studies as well as anecdotal evidence reveal that high heel wearers often experience backaches and headaches, likely caused by misalignment of the postural system leading to excess tension.
How Do I Correct Postural Problems Caused by High Heels?
The key to prevention and correction is detection! If you suspect you may have postural imbalances, it’s best to seek the advice of a personal trainer, chiropractor, or physician.
Any of these practitioners will likely prescribe a corrective flexibility program consisting of self-myofascial release and static stretching for the tight areas, namely the gastrocnemius, soleus, peroneals, and Achilles tendon. You may also be taught strengthening exercises to stabilize the weakened areas such as the ankles.
Flexibility Exercises for Tight Calves: Self-Myofascial Release & Static Stretching
Self-myofascial release involves using an implement such as a foam roller to loosen tense areas. It’s kind of like receiving a deep tissue massage, except it’s free since you do it to yourself.
Static stretching is the traditional form of stretching where you assume a position and hold it for 20-30 seconds.
You’ll achieve the best results if you target an area with the foam roller for at least 30 seconds to release tension, and then immediately do a static stretch for the same area.
Self-Myofascial Release and Static Stretching for the Gastrocnemius and Soleus
Self-Myofascial Release for the Gastrocnemius and Soleus Muscles with a Foam Roller:
The gastrocnemius muscles are the fleshy upper calf muscles.
The soleus is located on the lower calf behind the Achilles tendon.
Begin by loosening the gastrocnemius and soleus muscles with a foam roller as shown in the demonstration video.
Static Stretch for the Gastrocnemius and Soleus Muscles:
Immediately following use of the foam roller, hold the following static stretch for the gastrocnemius and soleus as shown in the demonstration video.
Self-Myofascial Release and Static Stretching for the Peroneals
The peroneals muscles run along the outside of the calf. Target the tense peroneal muscles by using a foam roller just as you learned in the demonstration video for the gastrocnemius and soleus, only rotate slightly to put the pressure on the outside of the calf instead of the back.
Move on to the following static stretch for the peroneals as shown in the demonstration video.
The peroneals are not talked about much and they are a little difficult to target, so they are often neglected in stretching and strengthening routines. However, they are key to stabilization of the foot and ankle. Visit this Askthetrainer.com Anatomy Page to learn more about their locations and functions.
The Bottom Line
We at Askthetrainer.com recommend you ditch the high heels ASAP, or if you simply can’t do without them, limit your high heel wearing to once in a great while for special occasions only.
It’s not too late to fix the postural problems you may have already developed from wearing high heels. Begin your corrective flexibility program today and you will soon be on your way to reclaiming your natural posture. So tell us, have you experienced any posture problems from wearing high heels? Let us know in the comments below!
1.) Clark, M.A., Lucett, S.C., and Sutton, B.G., (Eds.). (2012). NASM Essentials of Personal Fitness Training. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.
2.) Csapo, R., et al. (2010). On muscle, tendon and high heels. Journal of Experimental Biology, 213: 2582-2588.
3.) Voss, M. (2010). Why high heels hurt even after you take them off. NPR Blog, http://www.npr.org/blogs/