Stiletto Heels: 10 Foot Problems

Part I of a Three Part Series on High Heels

A stiletto heel is the name for a type of heel on a woman’s shoe or boot. The heel is long and thin and named after the stiletto dagger of the same shape, which was a dress dagger for the upper class in the 17th century. The term stiletto has more to do with the shape of the heel, than the height of the heel. Women will wear heels as high as six inches to make their legs appear longer and to accentuate the shape of the calf. Unfortunately, regular wear of high heels can cause multiple orthopedic problems over time.

Ten problems associated with high heels.

  1. High heels can cause back pain. High heels force the body forward, which places both the hips and the spine in an abnormal position. Overtime, this may result in low back pain.
  2. High heels may cause early arthritis in the knee. Because high heels force the hip and spine forward, this places excess stress on the inside of the knee, which contribute to abnormal stress on the cartilage, contributing to development of osteoarthritis.
  3. High heels may cause the calf to shorten. With regular wear, the calf muscles contract and tend to shorten over time.
  4. High heels may cause Achilles tendonitis. If the calf muscles contract and shortens over time, excess force is placed on the Achilles tendon when walking barefoot or a shoe with a normal heel height, causing tendonitis.
  5. High heels increase the chances for neuroma development. A neuroma is an inflamed nerve in the ball of the foot. When the foot is squeezed into a small space, the nerve becomes irritated and inflamed.
  6. High heels may cause hammertoes. When the foot is squeezed into a small space, the toes must bend and curl to fit. Over time they may become fixed in this position, called a rigid hammertoe.
  7. High heels may cause corns. Corns are the overgrowth of the top layer of skin as a result to excess pressure and friction. Squeezing the front of the foot into a small shoe will contribute to the development of corns on the tops of the toes and in between the toes.
  8. High heels may contribute to the development of bunions. Although high heels are not the isolated cause for bunion development, the increased stress on the big toe over time will contribute to bunions.
  9. High heels increase the chance of ankle sprains and fractures. The higher and more narrow the heel, the greater chance of twisting an ankle, which can result in an ankle sprain or ankle fracture.
  10. High heels increase the chances of a fall. Walking in 4-6 inch heels impairs balance and increases the chance for a fall.

A heel height of 1″ is actually encouraged as this helps to distribute force between the heel and the forefoot and take stress off the arch and the Achilles tendon. Heels over 2″ place almost three times the body weight on the ball of the foot. Wearing a high heel on occasion will not contribute to the development of long term foot problems, although there is still the risk of an injury or a fall. Occasions which involve mostly sitting are also appropriate. The more time spent standing and walking in high heels over 2″, the greater the chance of developing more chronic foot problems.

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