Most runners take pride in their ability to pound the pavement for hours on end, strong legs and feet pushing through the pain to carry them through a long run. Of course, trade the running shoes for a pair of high heels, and even the toughest among us are ready to throw in the towel after no more than an hour. So what gives? And could our daily choice of footwear be sabotaging our training?
The Dark Side of High Heels
Most women experience some degree of foot pain after as few as 30 minutes walking around in pumps. Those strappy stilettos may be the height of fashion, but they aren’t doing your athletic legs and feet any favors.
They load and squeeze your toes: The human foot, with its 26 bones, is an engineering marvel—distributing the weight of your body and protecting your skeleton from all that pounding. Once you force your feet into high heels, you’ve shifted that weight onto the balls of your feet and your smaller, delicate toe bones, limiting the capacity of the larger bones in your feet to do their shock-absorbing job. The higher the heel, the more pressure those tootsies will have to take. A 3-inch heel can increase the pressure on the front of the foot by over 76 percent. Squeezing your feet into the narrow toe box of a pump has other repercussions as well: Calluses, blisters, bunions and ingrown nails are all common among high heel wearers.
Frequently wearing heels places excess force on the inside of the knees and can fast track the wear and tear that leads to osteoarthritis.
They alter your natural stride: Heels force your gait into an unnatural staccato clip as your body is forced to adapt to a shorter heel-to-toe transition. To remain balanced atop sky-high shoes, you have to shift your hips forward, arch your back and push out your chest. That “sexy” (but incredibly unnatural) stance can overwork the hip muscles and tendons and stress the lower back.
They shorten your muscles and tendons: Achilles pain has been the bane of existence for many runners, and that high-heel habit may be partly to blame. Spending significant time in heels stiffens the Achilles tendons and can lead to chronically tight (and shortened) calf muscles and ankle tendons—making running and walking quite painful.