November 2011

Out on a limb: High on heels

By Jordana Bieze Foster, Editor

A week after this magazine goes to press, I’ll be in Puerto Rico with my in-laws for a beach wedding. I’m sure the scenery will be spectacular. But I also know that once the ceremony is over, I’ll be counting the minutes until I can put my heels back on.

Don’t tell the bride and groom. Their wedding website encourages guests to leave their heels at home along with their suits and ties, and specifically states that bare feet are welcome. But I can’t imagine going to a wedding without heels—not out of any sense of decorum, but because I actually like wearing heels and feel that they make celebratory events just a little more fun.

I was always the shortest kid in any class until I got to college, and even now I constantly feel vertically challenged next to my tall husband, his equally tall family, and his even taller volleyball teammates. Heels help. In a business setting, a conservative heeled shoe feels more professional to me than a flat. And of course heels have undeniable aesthetic benefits.

But for a medical journalist, wearing high heels comes with no small amount of guilt. Every time I see a new study linking high heels to foot pain, back pain, or knee pain, I feel compelled to rationalize.

It’s not like I wear stilettos all the time—most of my high-heeled shoes have more structure and stability than the typical flat. I don’t currently have any joint pain or structural foot abnormalities. And since I work at home, I really only wear heels for the equivalent of a few days every month. The rest of the time I’m barefoot or in socks, giving my feet plenty of opportunity to flex and strengthen.

Still, it’s hard to argue with the evidence. That’s why I get a little excited when I see studies suggesting that some subgroups of women may be less susceptible than most to the evils of high heels, whether in relation to foot pain (see “Pretty pathways to pain: Muscle activation in high-heeled shoes,”) or knee osteoarthritis pain (see “Some individuals report less OA pain while wearing high heels than flats”).

This research is still preliminary, so we don’t know yet exactly how these subgroups might be defined. It’s fun to imagine that the ability to wear high heels without consequence is a happy genetic accident, like having naturally high cheekbones or eyelashes that are long and dark without mascara. But realistically, those subgroups are probably women like me, who unquestionably prefer high heels to flats but are selective about what type of heels they wear and how often they wear them.

It’s most likely that the women out there who relish the idea of going barefoot for a wedding ceremony on the beach are those whose bones and joints will be happiest and healthiest in the long run. And maybe someday I’ll be one of them.

But for now, I’m still happy in my heels—and feeling just a little less guilty about it.

One Response to Out on a limb: High on heels

  1. Hi Jordana- I always felt that barefoot activities in the sand allowed all sorts of new muscle activation for our feet, ankles, especially intrinsically for the feet- so take advantage! Interesting insight re “subgroups” of women who might have less “problems” re wearing heels. My thinking is that the flexible, even ligamentous lax foot type would tolerate “changes like heels to mechanics” re problems with feet, & areas above, (ala subgroups). Rigid foot structures less tolerant—- anyway, get a good tan!….Happy turkey day.. Dr. Bob Weil

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