The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine

Sprinting in Stilettos? Gait Analysis Shows How Heels Can Hurt

Posted by on Monday, March 16th, 2015

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We’ve all been there before. The bus is leaving. There are three minutes until the flight starts boarding. The business meeting started 10 minutes ago. Your toddler suddenly runs full-throttle through a crowded restaurant. Running in high heels is not the ideal scenario, but it happens more often than we’d like. But think twice next time. Using gait analysis, researchers from Ningbo University in Zhejiang, China found that even short bursts of sprinting activity in heels can lead to long-lasting problems.

running in high heels
Think twice before running in high heels–or before wearing them five days a week, for that matter. Image Source: Flickr.com (duygu)

Risks of Running In Heels

Researchers said nine out of 10 women who regularly wear high heels report fatigue, pain, numbness, and bunions. No surprise there!  Researchers also looked at how experienced and inexperienced high heel wearers fared in high heels (heels over 2.75 inches), low heels (1.75 inches), and flats. Test subjects were studied in a lab with a computerized 3-D gait analysis system, like we use here at The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine in New York City. The findings of this latest study were published in the International Journal of Biomedical Engineering and Technology.

Scientists observed that high heel wearers in general were at risk for:

– Ankle sprains

– Hip and knee strains

– Osteoarthritis of the knees

They noted risk factors for both experienced and inexperienced heel wearers, but the risks were greater for higher heels, and for women not accustomed to wearing heels. These findings aren’t particularly startling, but they may make some women think twice before choosing that rare pair of super-high heels for a special occasion.

What Happens To The Body While Wearing Heels?

Hip abduction occurs when the femur moves toward the outside of the body during a typical gait cycle. Wearing high heels weakens the hip abductor muscles–which, in turn, causes decreased hip abduction, and a greater likelihood of spraining the ankle. Knee flexion also decreases while wearing heels, causing women to have a “limping” sort of gait, which also increases the risk of suffering a sprained ankle. Experienced heel wearers exhibit decreases in ankle dorsiflexion and abduction even while wearing low heels, which puts strain on the hips and knees.

These findings build upon previous research that women swapping heels for flats at the end of the day are still no better off than women going home in their heels, because their shoes have already altered their biomechanics. Wearing high heels causes calf muscles to become weaker–and shorter! A separate study out of Manchester Metropolitan University found that women who wear heels five days a week over a period of two years can shrink their calf muscles by up to 13%. As the UK Mail explains, “When the wearer switches to flats, the muscles are suddenly stretched into a position they are not used to, causing pain and discomfort.” The only way to prevent this effect is to perform stretches at the end of each day.

Gait Analysis At The Center For Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine

The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine offers sports medicine centers in Manhattan and Westchester that are fully equipped with computerized gait analysis machines. We assess runners, athletes, and even the occasional business professional who is worried about the long-term consequences of wearing heels. Whether you are experiencing nagging aches and pains now, or you would like to take a proactive step for the future, our gait analysis service will be of great benefit to you! Our sports medicine trainers can then set you up with a strength-training program to prevent injury. If you have already sustained injury, we can treat you with the best advancements the sports medicine industry has to offer. So take off those heels, and contact us to set up your appointment with our friendly board-certified podiatric specialists.

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If you have any foot problems or pain, contact The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports MedicineDr. Josef J. GeldwertDr. Katherine Lai, Dr. Ryan Minara and Dr. Mariola Rivera have helped thousands of people get back on their feet. Unfortunately, we cannot give diagnoses or treatment advice online. Please make an appointment to see us if you live in the NY metropolitan area or seek out a podiatrist in your area.