Women who wear high heels on a regular basis can attest to the pain that can come with wearing this type of shoe. But do high heels cause actual damage or injury?

New research indicates long-term wearing of high heels can contribute to both compromised muscle efficiency and strain injuries.

The study examined the effects of habitual high heel use on the neuromechanical behavior of triceps surae muscles during walking.

“Human movement requires a constant, finely-tuned interaction between muscular and tendinous tissues, so changes in the properties of either tissue could have important functional consequences,” the investigators wrote. “One condition that alters the functional demands placed on lower limb muscle-tendon units is the use of high-heeled shoes, which force the foot into a plantarflexed position.

“Long-term [high heel] use has been found to shorten medial gastrocnemius muscle fascicles and increase Achilles tendon stiffness, but the consequences of these changes for locomotor muscle-tendon function are unknown,” the investigators wrote.

The study population consisted of nine habitual high heel wearers who had worn shoes with a minimum heel height of 5cm at least 40 hours per week for a minimum of two years, and 10 control participants who habitually wore heels for less than 10 hours per week.

Participants walked at a self-selected speed over level ground while ground reaction forces, ankle and knee joint kinematics, lower limb muscle activity and gastrocnemius fascicle length data were acquired, according to the research.

“In long-term [high heel] wearers, walking in [high heels] resulted in substantial increases in muscle fascicle strains and muscle activation during the stance phase compared to barefoot walking,” the investigators wrote. “The results suggest that long-term high heel use may compromise muscle efficiency in walking, and are consistent with reports that [high heel] wearers often experience discomfort and muscle fatigue.

“Long-term [high heel] use may also increase the risk of strain injuries.”

The research was conducted by investigators with the Neuromuscular Research Centre, Department of Biology of Physical Activity, University of Jyväskylä, Finland; and the Musculoskeletal Research Program, Griffith Health Institute, Griffith University, in Queensland, Australia. It was published in January in the Journal of Applied Science.

Editor’s note: Learn more about the effects of high heels in “Gaga Over Heels: Myoskeletal Alignment,” a feature article by Erik Dalton that ran in the September 2011 issue of MASSAGE Magazine.

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