Beware What You Wear: High Heels and Back Pain
The Anatomy of Style
For some women, wearing high heels is more than a choice; it’s part of a carefully curated, glamorous lifestyle. This was certainly the perspective of actress, singer and style icon, Marilyn Monroe, who once quipped, “I don’t know who invented high heels, but all women owe him a lot.” And there’s no doubt that they can accentuate a look, whether worn to the office or for parties or special occasions. But, as frequent wearers can attest, they sometimes take a toll on the body, and can cause spine and back pain.
In fact, it’s becoming increasingly clear that wearing pumps frequently leads to postural problems, which, especially over the long term, can cause a range of painful conditions and injuries throughout the back and up to the neck. Unfortunately, many women—especially those in their 20s—tend to “push through” the pain, leading to worse damage and injury. It’s therefore important to understand what exactly this fashion accessory does to the body.
A Spring in a Step
One of the most important tasks of the spine is to serve as a cushion. The impact of every step you take is mediated by the S-curvature of the vertebrae, with additional help coming from the cartilage discs between the bones: it’s sort of like a spring. The problem with wearing high heeled shoes is that, since they raise the heels, they cause the legs to essentially lean forward. This throws off the positioning of the whole spine, and affects this cushioning function, leading to issues throughout the back.
Here’s a quick, top to bottom breakdown of what wearing heels does to the body:
- Head & Neck: The position that you adopt when you wear high heels is one that essentially has to counterbalance the forward lean coming from the legs. The upper spine and neck therefore end up out of position, which places strain on them and can lead to pain.
- Mid and Lower Back: Though these effects can be felt in the neck and head, they even more directly impact this region of the back. As with the head and neck, the issues arise because the lumbar spine (the lower back) is forced to flatten out to compensate for the forward lean caused by heels. This causes muscle overuse and affects proper arrangement of these bones, which increases strain and pain.
- Foraminal Stenosis: This is when the “foramina,” openings in the vertebrae that protect the nerves coming to and from the brain, become obstructed. If in the lower back—something which can happen to frequent wearers of high heel shoes—it leads to shooting pain, weakness, tingling, numbness, and cramping radiating through the buttocks and lower limbs. Sciatica is a form of foraminal stenosis.
Clearly, there may be real consequences to wearing these kinds of shoes, and it may not be worth suffering for the sake of fashion.
What You Can Do
So where do we go from here? What can you do to protect your back if you want to keep wearing these kinds of shoes? Luckily, there are a couple things you can do:
- Limited Wear: Try to minimize the amount of time you’re wearing high heels. Bringing along a pair of flats will help preserve the health of your back.
- Limit Height: The higher the heels, the greater the strain on the body. You’re better off ensuring heels are no taller than 2 inches.
- Avoid Pointy Shoes: Pointier high heeled shoes may look more striking, but they accentuate awkward positioning and increase strain on the feet.
- Add Insoles: See if you can’t add extra cushioning by adding insoles.
- Mix It Up: Don’t wear high heels every day; there are plenty of great flats out there, so don’t be afraid to vary your shoe selection.
Ensuring your back is in good condition doesn’t have to take a backseat to style; you just have to be mindful about your choices. By developing solid habits and finding a good middle ground, you’ll be able to look great and feel great too!
If you’re experiencing pain in the back or neck, an expert at North American Spine can help. These professionals employ the latest in technologies and techniques to ensure the best possible outcome for a wide range of patients. Talk to a Patient Care Manager there by calling 469-638-0208 today!
- “High Heels Quotes – Brainyquote”. 2017. Brainyquote. Accessed August 29 2017. https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/keywor
- “How High Heels Affect Your Body”. 2017. Spine Health Institute. Accessed August 29 2017. http://www.thespinehealthinstitute.com/news-room/health-blog/how-high-heels-affect-your-body.
- Castillo, Stephanie. 2015. “High Heels Causing More Ankle And Foot Injuries, Particularly Among Women In Their 20S”. Medical Daily. http://www.medicaldaily.com/high-heels-causing-more-ankle-and-foot-injuries-particularly-among-women-their-20s-334754.