Ladies, let’s talk about shoes.
I like shoes. I’ve always been more of a sneaker than a high heel type, but there are times when I’ll bust out the big-girl shoes. I like the way that they make my feet look (at first), I like the way that I think of myself when I’m wearing them. What I don’t like is what they’re doing to my body. Not even really to my body, but more to the bodies of women who wear heels daily.
I’ve been reading a lot of research papers lately, trying to get my learn on, and I came across a couple of interesting studies about the effects of high heels as they relate to osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis and knee replacement surgery are much more common in women than in men, and these studies looked to draw a correlation between the pretty shoes and the not-so-pretty consequences. Here’s walking in a nutshell: When you walk, the ground forces coupled with gravity and your bodyweight want to force your joints to bend one way or another. To counteract this your muscles have to produce an equal and opposite reaction to keep you from collapsing on yourself.
Long science-y story short, the first study concluded that walking in high heels increases abductor dominance (about 10%), causing the knees to cave in (science term: valgus).* The second concluded pretty much the same, adding that if afterwards the knee is forced into a varus (knees out) position (so you don’t fall over), the loading will be directly on the medial surfaces of the knee joint.** Not a great plan. Both studies found that high heels are more muscularly demanding to walk in, and could contribute to joint degeneration and osteoarthritis. Maybe those stilettos don’t look so appealing anymore.
Following up on the articles, I came across a number of fitness classes that cater to women who want to wear heels, teaching them proper posture, pelvic alignment and striding technique. Fair play, some women are always going to wear heels and at least they’re being taught the best way to do so. I hope that along with teaching women how to walk in their heels, these fitness professionals are also educating them about the possible long-term effects.
As well, I came across what I hope is not a far-reaching fitness trend: The Stiletto Workout (for the love of your minds, don’t watch the whole video, a few seconds should give you enough of an idea). Apparently, there are studios that teach whole classes in heels, cashing in on the whole fitness-for-women-should-be-sexy trend. I’ll get into my feelings on that trend in another post. Suffice it to say, I’m not a huge fan. If you must wear them, there is a time and a place for high heels (preferably when you are mostly sitting). THAT TIME IS NOT WORKOUT TIME. Training is about feeling good about yourself, and maybe heels help you do that, but training is also about safety and there is no way that you will ever convince me that working out in high heels is the safest training method you have available to you. Barefoot – great; training shoes – great; stilettos – no freaking way.
While we’re on the topic, it’s not just stilettos we should be worried about. Recently, Sketchers settled a $40 million lawsuit regarding their Shape-Ups toning shoes. Ads for Shape-Ups claimed that the sneakers toned muscles, improved posture, and encouraged weight loss, while reducing knee and ankle stress and back pain. Last September, the FTC also settled with Reebok over similar claims about their toning shoes. The FTC found that the claims were based on faulty science and that in independent testing, people did not lose weight just from wearing different shoes. Score one for common sense.
The trouble is that with so much crazy health and fitness marketing out there, it can be tough to know what constitutes common sense. And for beginners who are looking for anything to get them started on the path, toning shoes are an easy sell. Sketchers still stands by its product and will continue to sell the shoes, just changing the advertising message.
We’re all grown-ups, and we can wear whatever we want on our bodies and do whatever we want while wearing it. What I’m saying is before you strap on those strappy sandals, those precarious pumps, or even those EasyTones; give it a good think, consider your common sense, and make an informed decision.
*Heel height affects lower extremity frontal plane joint moments during walking, Barkema, Derrick and Martin, Gait and Posture, 2011
**Walking on High Heels Changes Muscle Activity and the Dynamics of Human Walking Significantly, Simonsen, Svendsen, Norreslet, Baldvinsson, Heilskov-Hansen, Larsen, Alkjaer and Henriksen, JAB, 2011