Scientists Stalk Stilettos
Some research studies intrigue, and this latest one, by Neil J. Cronin, a postdoctoral researcher, and two of his colleagues at the Musculoskeletal Research Program at Griffith University in Queensland, Australia, is one that I’d have enjoyed observing, if not- actually participating in.
“We began to consider what might be happening at the muscle and tendon level” in women who wear heels, Dr. Cronin says.
Imagine, scientists intuited that women wearing high heels walked differently from those wearing flats.
In results published last week in The Journal of Applied Physiology, 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.
GRETCHEN REYNOLDS, in the New York Times:
“The obvious question raised by the findings, though, is so what? Does it fundamentally matter if a woman’s calf muscle fibers shorten and she neglects her tendons while walking, especially if she loves the looks of her Louboutins?
That question is difficult for a biomechanist to answer, Dr. Cronin admits. Aesthetics are outside the realm of his branch of science. But the risk of injury is not. “We think that the large muscle strains that occur when walking in heels may ultimately increase the likelihood of strain injuries,” he says. (This risk is separate from the chances that a woman, if unfamiliar with heels, may topple sideways and twist an ankle or bruise her self-image, which is an acute injury and happened to me only the one time.)
The risks extend to workouts, when heel wearers abruptly switch to sneakers or other flat shoes. “In a person who wears heels most of her working week,” Dr. Cronin says, the foot and leg positioning in heels “becomes the new default position for the joints and the structures within. Any change to this default setting,” he says, like pulling on Keds or Crocs, constitutes “a novel environment, which could increase injury risk.”
It should be noted, he adds, that in his study, the volunteers “were quite young, average age 25, suggesting that it is not necessary to wear heels for a long time, meaning decades, before adaptations start to occur.”
So, if you do wear heels and are at all concerned about muscle and joint strains, his advice is simple. Try, if possible, to ease back a bit on the towering footwear, he says. Wear high heels maybe “once or twice a week,” he says. And if that’s not practical or desirable, “try to remove the heels whenever possible, such as when you’re sitting at your desk.” The shoes can remain alluring, even nestled beside your feet.