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This week in High Heel News…

October 27, 2013

Yikes. I picked a bad interesting week to plan a post about high heels.


While attending a tech conference in NYC this week, start-up CEO Jorge Cortell caused a stir when he tweeted his disregard for a female at the same conference because she was wearing high heels. The bit that really got people upset was the hashtag he chose to include with a picture of the offending high heel shoes: #nobrainsrequired. When the people of twitterland lashed back at him for his remarks, he insisted that it was more out of concern for her health than anything else.


Ok. So, Mr Cortell’s boorish choice of words won’t win him any charm awards anytime soon. If knowing how to use language to influence people in a positive manner is linked to success, I don’t think Mr Cortell marketed himself very well to the Venture Capitalists attending the conference. He also exposed further what is already rumored: the tech world is a male dominated, hostile environment for women.

However, this is a blog about understanding the general engineering of the human machine, how to maintain its parts for maximum health and longevity, and analyzing some common thoughts and habits that affect health but often fly under the radar.

The truth is, wearing high heels can affect your physical health. Just like wine, caffeine, and ice cream, heels should be completely avoided by some people, and worn in moderation for others. Let’s talk about why.

First, many high heels have the corseting action I discussed in a previous post. This corseting action prevents the muscles of your foot from working as they should, and affects your circulation, your balance, and how other joints work.

Then, there’s the effect on the body from the raised heel. When the shoe heel is high, the body shifts. How the body shifts will differ from one person to the next, but some sort of shifting does occur that takes the body out of its optimal alignment.

Here’s an illustration to show how heels change our body’s relationship with gravity enough to affect how our muscles and joints work. The lady on the left is standing upright in bare feet with her body nicely aligned over her calcaneus. (ankle bone) Next, we see her with a one inch heel. The 90 degree angle she had with the ground while in bare feet is now 70 degrees.

heels illustration

Unless she wants to do the lean from Michael Jackson’s Smooth Criminal video all day, this 30 degree difference is countered by shifting almost every joint in her body. As the shifts move up the body’s chain of joints, the amount of shift in the joint relative to the joint below it tends to increase. (This is why you can sometimes have neck pain or a headache after wearing high heels)

The last illustration is our lady now showing some of the shifting and common mis-alignments of a regular heel wearer. If her heels were two or three inches high instead of just one, the shifts and mis-alignments could be greater.

These shifts and mis-alignments may not seem like much. However, just like daily sun exposure on your skin, wearing heels daily will incrementally bring you down the road to issues we like to blame on “just getting old.” Things like osteoarthritis, degenerative disc disease, and even incontinence.

If you already have some alignment issues, (like most people) I recommend stating a program to help bring your body back to alignment and limit the activities such as heel wearing that accumulates into pain and illness. Like daily sunscreen that protects you from premature aging and skin cancer, your alignment practice and everyday shoe choice can slow the progression of issues that have become too common in our modern society.

If you already have chronic pain in your joints, or issues with circulation or pelvic floor, wearing heels should be avoided. Continuing to wear heels can decrease your chances of healing these issues and increase the possibility of irreversible damage. The good news is that if caught early enough, many health issues can be helped and even corrected through restorative exercises and mindful alignment.

So, what to do in a culture that thinks of high heels as powerful, sexy, fashionable, and feminine?

  • Examine your own relationship with heels. You might find you are powerful, sexy, fashionable, and feminine in many different ways!
  • You can chose to wear powerful, sexy, or feminine outfits that fashionably call for a flat shoe, sandal, or boot.
  • For special occasions, you can choose to wear flat shoes while walking to your destination and then change into heels.
  • You can spend more time barefoot and do the other suggestions from my first foot post to help keep your feet strong and responsive.
  • Re-establish your alignment everyday by doing restorative exercises to help counteract wearing heels.

Wearing heels tends to shorten the back of your legs. (so does sitting!) Here’s one exercise that will help restore your body:

Double Calf Stretch

Double Calf Stretch

Double Calf Stretch

Using a half foam roller or a rolled up towel, keep your heels on the ground and place the balls of your feet on the foam roller.

Keep your spine in a neutral position and your legs straight. Bend at the hip to feel a slight stretch in your calves and hamstrings.

Hips should stay over the ankle bones.

Check in with your breath. If you are holding your breath, back off the stretch a little so you can breath naturally.


foot x-ray photo credit: Radiologist Nasiruddin at South City Hospital

  1. Thank you for this! As an anatomist, I am appalled by the high, body- and balance-distorting heels women wear these days as a nod to fashion–and to make themselves seem more attractive to men. I have long viewed this “fashion” as the Western version of Chinese foot-binding. With such a wobbly gait, a woman would be unable to escape from her pursuer!

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