I envy those women who wear high heels regularly. Not only do their legs look great, they clearly have a higher threshold for pain (not to mention greater coordination) than I do. Far too used to clipping along in flats or (more often) runners, I’d have a better chance of learning how to walk on stilts than navigate a city street in heels.
But wearers of high heels may be curious to know what happens to feet and surrounding muscles when they’re teetering on six-inch heels. The short answer: it messes with your walking gait.
New York Times‘ Health writer Tara Parker Pope cites a new study by researchers in Australia that reveals how heels affect a woman’s gait, increasing overall inefficiency and potentially making them more susceptible to strain.
For the study, the researchers fastened electrodes to the legs of women who wore heels regularly. They then asked the women to walk along a walkway in their favourite heels while the electrodes monitored muscle activity and movement patterns. The women were then asked to complete the same circuit, only this time barefoot.
After analyzing both experiments and comparing them with results from women who didn’t wear heels, the researchers discovered that women who were habituated to wearing heels had a different gait. Even when walking barefoot the heel-wearers walked differently.
Women who wore heels displayed a shortened walking style and when they walked their feet were flexed and their toes pointed. As a result, they put greater strain on the muscles of the calf, which had shortened in response.
The researchers speculate that over time, this increased amount of muscle tension may amp up the risk of injury due to strain. Questions about potential injuries aside, walking this way also just requires more effort to get from point A to B.
Dr. Neil Cronin told the New York Times that women may want to take the data to heart and alter their habits. He suggests women only wear heels once or twice a week and that they make a point of kicking them off when they’re seated.