High Heels and Your Back

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While women have worn high heels for decades in the effort to look sexy, it is increasingly having a bad effect on their back, not to mention their knees and feet. Those pricey Manolo Blahniks may look great, but is the price your back pays really worth it?

When you wear high heels, they throw off your center of gravity, causing your pelvis to tip forward and forcing the muscles in your hips, thighs and lower back to work harder, which can lead to tightness and occasional spasms. They also create a greater curvature in your lower back, which makes the buttocks more prominent and lengthens the appearance of the legs (which is what makes high heels "sexy" looking).

If you wear high heels for any length of time, your body posture adapts to it, making some muscles work harder than they should and letting other important ones become weak. For instance, the gluteal muscles weaken and the hip flexors, which are responsible for raising your knee toward your chest, become unusually tight, causing back pain. Your hip flexors extend from the front of your thigh bone, through the hip joint, to end at the lower back. Therefore, if the muscle is tight and shortened it pulls on the lower back. High heels combined with a desk job are the worst of all, as the hip flexors become shortened from being in a sitting position all day.

If you don't want to give up your high heels there are a few things you can do to reduce long-term damage to your back:

  1. Stretch your hip flexors regularly - You can reduce back pain by keeping these muscles stretched. To do this, kneel on one knee on the floor with the foot of the extended leg slightly forward of the knee. Then move your hips slowly forward so your knee is over your foot. You should feel a gentle stretch in the hip of the kneeling leg as you do this. Hold for 20-30 seconds and do twice on each side.
  2. Choose a lower heel - Try to buy shoes with a heel no higher than 2 inches. This will still achieve the elegant effect you are looking for without putting excessive stress on your musculoskeletal system.
  3. Tighten your abdominal muscles - Strengthening "core" muscles in your abdomen by practicing yoga or pilates will help you maintain good posture while walking in heels and take some of the load of your upper body weight off your lower back.
  4. Have regular chiropractic treatment - An experienced chiropractor can realign a spine pulled out of alignment by high heels and can suggest appropriate exercises to help strengthen weak muscles.