Wearing high heels can lead to injuries of the ankle, leg and back, according to a study published in this month´s International Journal of Clinical Practice (IJCP).
Researchers found that wearing high heels can strengthen the ankle at first, but prolonged wearing of this style of shoe leads to weakening and instability in the leg.
Commenting on the study, Tricia Turner from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte said that the results are not surprising.
“Initially when wearing heels the muscles that surround the ankles have to continuously contract to keep you upright and walking. Over time you need less muscle contraction as the lower leg muscles adapt to the changes in footwear. Once that occurs less muscle contraction occurs,” she said.
“With prolonged use you get muscle shortening in the back of the leg and muscle lengthening in the front of the leg. These changes in muscle length then can change muscle strength,” Turner explained.
The study, titled ‘Reducing the frequency of wearing high-heeled shoes and increasing ankle strength can prevent ankle injury in women´, looked at ankle strength and balance in women training to be flight attendants.
Turner, associate professor of kinesiology and athletic training coordinator in the College of Health and Human Services at UNC Charlotte, said that high heels can cause problems because they force the foot into a naturally unstable position and alter the normal walking cycle.
“In sneakers or flat shoes, the foot is positioned in neutral where the bones of the ankle are under the bones of the lower leg, creating a more stable joint and a decreased likelihood of injury,” she said.
Ligament and nerve damage in the ankle could lead to issues in the legs and back, Turner warned.
“Changes at the ankle cause the muscles higher in the leg and back to lose efficiency and strength. It also changes the load the bones in and around the knee have to absorb, which can ultimately lead to injury.”
To minimise the risk of injury, Turner recommends exercises that stretch and strengthen the lower leg muscles, together with balance training techniques.