Heels – Lovely yet unfriendly


Marilyn Monroe once said, “Give a girl the right shoes and she can conquer the world”.

The bold feat might exist in my dreams. Meanwhile, I would be more keen in lovely heels like the ones above.

Ever since switching out from the concrete jungle, my collection of office footwear also made its way out of the cabinet. Court shoes, pumps, loafers, Mary Janes, ballet flats, and what not were either given away or discarded. The exception – the heels collection was fairly intact.

When I bought new heels recently and put them on the very next day, pain came knocking on my feet, ankles and back. I could not wait to take off those lovely yet unfriendly heels.

That familiar discomfort also drove me to find out why it is so. Please pardon my amateurish drawings.

Heels – Behind the scenes

When we stand without heels, our vertical stance forms a normal 90-degree angle between the foot and the shin. Weight is well distributed throughout the feet. Hence we are well supported and balanced. See Figure 1 below.

Figure 1. When standing without heels, we form a comfortable right angle alignment for balance.

When we are in heels, the angle between the foot and shin changes. Our foot is relatively short in length compared to our body length. Therefore, a slight displacement by way of a 1- or 2-inch heel, can displace the length of your body quite significantly. Figure 2 demonstrates the impact of displacement created by the heel.

Figure 2. In heels – The angle between the foot and shin changes, displacing the whole body forward, throwing the balance and support off.

First and foremost, your entire weight is shifted to the balls of your feet and the delicate toe bones. To balance well, your ankles will need to extend. In other words, your ankles are subjected to stretch for as long as you are in heels.

Try to mimic a pointed foot now. Do you notice your Achilles tendons stiffen up or get shorter? They are the anchor for your calf muscles to your heel. When they get messed up, the strain spread upwards and make your calf bulge.

Since the balls of your feet can absorb only so much of your entire weight (shock), the other shock absorbers, your knees, are also activated to move forward to keep you balanced. They do so with extra stress, unnecessarily.

Not just your knees, your hips also move forward to help cope with the extra pressure in the forefeet. To prevent them for going overly forward, your gluteal (buttock) muscles tighten. This creates an unnatural curved-in back with both your buttocks and stomach jutting out.

Figure 3 below shows how our body copes with the displacement – by compensation.

Figure 3. The result of the body compensating for the displacement. Compare this with Figure 1.

The more displacement created, the more compensation our body delves out. Your postural habit, gait, injury history, and body proportions also influence the degree and way your body copes with the displacement. However well our body may cope, it ultimately struggles to function optimally.

Think of machines operating at a displaced angle – Would you want to use a washing machine that is 20 to 40 degrees off its normal axis for good? Do you want to drive a car when its wheels are permanently 30 degrees off its alignment?

So, do we have to give up our heels?

Almost certainly unlikely, that we want to. We wear them for work, for occasions, and to complete our attire.

Without going to the extremes of wiping out our beloved heels, here are some recommendations to consider. We may not escape all the negative effects of heels, but at least, there is some damage control. In fact, you might be already heeding some of them.

Heels Management – Some work-arounds for heels-lovers.

Are you a heel-wearer/lover? What are your own ways for coping with wearing heels? Please feel free to comment here!


Bowman, Katy. Simple Steps to Foot Pain Relief: The New Science of Healthy Feet. BenBella Books Inc. 2016.

Levine, Suzanne; Lautin, Everett; Bender, Michele. My feet are killing me: Dr. Levine’s Complete Foot Care Program. BookBaby. 2014.

Spine Health Institute – Florida Hospital Medical Group. How high heels affect your body. http://www.thespinehealthinstitute.com/news-room/health-blog/how-high-heels-affect-your-body

Accessed 22-July-2018



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