An elegant pair of heels can seem the perfect way to complete a smart outfit.
But women who wear them too often may find the downsides soon outweigh the benefits – as research shows they can cause a potentially harmful imbalance in the feet.
Scientists examined the effect of the footwear on women who don high heels regularly for work.
They found that despite initially strengthening important muscles around the ankle, after three years the shoes led to some muscles becoming dominant – increasing the risk of sprains.
‘As high heels are in fashion and sometimes required for certain professions, many women may be unaware of the extent to which [the shoes] may be weakening their dynamic balance,’ said Dr Yong-Seok Jee, from Hanseo University in South Korea.
‘Eventually, major accidents such as falls and serious ankle sprains can result without proper maintenance and conditioning.’
Dr Jee’s team studied 40 professional women who wear heels of 10cm or higher at least three times a week.
They regularly measured the women’s ankle strength, and found that two of the four main muscles started becoming dominant after between one and three years of regular wear.
They told the International Journal of Clinical Practice: ‘These results suggest that wearing high heels may strengthen ankle muscles at first, but prolonged use [of more than three years] eventually causes a muscular imbalance – a crucial predictor of ankle injury.’
Deformed feet, back pain and unhealthy walking patterns can all result from wearing heels, Dr Jee added, so it is important for women to take what he describes as ‘preventative measures’.
As well as limiting how often the shoes are worn, Dr Jee recommends ankle-strengthening exercises such as deliberately walking on the heel of the foot with the ball raised, or tapping toes.
Toe tapping involves sitting in a seat with bare feet on the ground and simply lifting the front of the foot, keeping the heel in place.
It is clinically important for wearers of heels to regularly perform [these] exercises,’ Dr Jee said.
The damage done by high heels is not only muscular – it can also be cosmetic.
Celebrities’ feet can often end up looking less than glamorous after years of wearing uncomfortable – but stylish – shoes.
The normally elegant Samantha Cameron proved the point during the election campaign in April, when she kicked off her loafers to reveal a patch of worn skin and bony lumps on her big toes.
Podiatrist Michael Ratcliffe said at the time the lumps appeared to have been caused by years of irritation, and were ‘generally the result of wearing high heels’.
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