How High Heels Impact Leg Muscles

Researchers from Manchester Metropolitan University in Britain are requesting the participation of women who regularly wear high heels for a study that intends to reveal the effect of such shoes on leg muscles. Until this point, prior research has indicated that wearing stilettos two or more inches high has a debilitating impact on the health and function of women's legs and feet. However, definitive proof of these issues has been lacking; this is what the new study intends to produce.

The British researchers will use ultrasound and MRI scanning technology to examine the leg muscles of dozens of women to observe changes in muscles as a result of wearing different types of shoes. Robert Csapo, a Ph.D. student conducting the study believes that human tissue will respond and develop as a direct respond to activity – and wearing stilettos is a form of exercise.

Csapo speculates that since the calf muscle is only used in a shortened position, the muscle will likely shorten and weaken. We are looking at some people who wear heels for 40 hours a week, so it’s no surprise that the body finds ways to adapt to this, eventually leading to pain and podiatry issues. This study aims to find hard scientific data that provides useful advice to both women and shoe manufacturers on how to prevent the detrimental effects of wearing high heels.

Csapo and co-researcher Marco Narici asked for volunteers in the age range of 20 to 50 years who had regularly worn 5cm heels for 2 years or more. Csapo attracted an initial 80 recruits, which he then narrowed down to about 11 who felt uncomfortable walking without high heels. He then recruited a second group of women who did not wear high heels and teamed up with Olivier Seynnes to examine the internal structures of both groups’ calf muscles.

First, researchers measured the size of women’s calf muscles with MRI. The team discovered that the calf muscles of high heel wearers were the same size as women who wore flat shoes; they did not shrink. Next, researchers used ultrasound technology to measure the muscle fiber length in women’s calf muscles; there was a noticeable difference. The high heel wearers’ muscle fibers were roughly 13% shorter than those of women who wore only flat shoes.

The research team then turned their focus to the tendons that attach the calf muscle to the heel. MRI scans revealed that researchers could still see the Achilles’ tendon was the same length in the two groups of women. The tendon had not lengthened in order to accommodate a shorter calf muscle. However, the tendon of high heel wearers was thicker and stiffer than flat shoe wearers’. The researchers realized that when the Achilles’ tendon thickens and stiffens, it is compensating for the shortened muscle fibers in the calf muscles. This adjustment allow high heel wearers’ calf muscles to function optimally as they walk, but then causes discomfort then they begin walking on flat feet because the tendon cannot stretch sufficiently.

Narici doesn’t think that women necessarily need to give up high heels. However, he suggests that high heel users should try stretching exercises to avoid soreness when they kick off their heels at the end of the day.


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