If fashionistas and beauty magazine editors had their way, we would all be running around in high heels. After all, high heels make the legs look longer and add a jaunty hitch in our stride. But that jaunty hitch can create many problems in the body, not the least of which is back pain.

When you wear flats or stand barefoot, your weight is centered over your feet and evenly distributed to all areas of your body (hips, ankles, etc). Muscles and tendons in calves are allowed to stretch to their natural position, and the spine maintains its natural alignment.

Now imagine you add high heels to the mix. 

The calves are shortened because of the heel (even a modest one- or two-inch heel), throwing the weight forward to the balls of the feet. Additional pressure is placed on the feet as well, from 22% more pressure on the foot from a one-inch heel to 76% more pressure for a three-inch heel. The lower back is then pushed out of alignment as this weight comes forward, flattening out the natural curve, compressing the vertebrae and causing pain. The excess pressure and weight is also placed on the knees, and the chest is pushed forward to “balance” the body in this position.

The consequences of wearing high heels can range from temporary (muscle fatigue and general soreness) to short-term (muscles and tendons in the calves shorten and bulge) to alarmingly long-term (a condition called spondylolisthesis, which is when one vertebrae actually slips over the other as a result of the lower back being pushed out of alignment). Wearing high heels can also cause sciatic pain and another condition called foraminal stenosis; both of these conditions can cause shooting pain up the back and down the legs, along with numbness, tingling, and weakness.

You need not throw away your high heels for good, but do rotate high heels with flats, try to keep your heel height to no more than two inches, and shop for shoes in the afternoon when your feet are largest so you can get the best fit and support. There is no need to sacrifice your spine for beauty!

Are you willing to take a break from heels to ease your pain, or will you sacrifice it all for fashion?

Image by R.A. via Flickr

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