The latest study on high heels isn’t just for fashion-forward females.
Try this: Stand on the balls of your feet and walk a few steps. See how difficult it is to take a full stride using your gluteals? Now put your foot flat on the floor, lift your toes up and try engaging your gluteals. See how much easier it is?
A recent study in the Journal of Applied Physiology looked at how high-heeled shoes alter the mechanics of walking. The study concluded that wearing heels long-term costs more energy and is less efficient; they may even contribute to injury. By raising your heel, the shoes don’t allow for ankle dorsiflexion, the movement that allows the shinbone to pivot over the foot. This not only reduces hip extension and stride length, but it also impedes your ability to push off with your calf or gluteal muscles.
Since most traditional running shoes also have a significant heel lift, this research will score points with the minimalistic shoe crowd, given that any heel on any shoe alters your biomechanics. A higher-heeled running shoe encourages premature loading onto your forefoot and doesn’t allow your calf muscles to fully lengthen. You then lose some of the elastic potential of the Achilles and calf muscles.
So how often should you wear high heels? The best answer is never, but that obviously isn’t reasonable. Wearing them for brief periods, like a few hours at a social gathering, is a safe limit that will not cause too much functional change in biomechanics. Wearing them every day at the office or all weekend on a trip is pushing the limits. Just remember this: Even a 1cm heel lift in traditional running shoes alters movement patterns. This is why we believe that the minimalistic shoe trend is just that—a trend and not a fad.
The Gait Guys are chiropractors Shawn Allen and Ivo Waerlop (Thegaitguys.com).