High heel wearers likely guessed it: Walking around on your tiptoes isn't great for your calf muscles. Researchers looking at leg sonograms of women who frequently wear 2-inch or higher heels found that these women had calf muscle fibers that were an average of 13 percent shorter than their flat-wearing counterparts. The small study, published yesterday in the
Journal of Experimental Biology,
has given some credence to complaints of lasting pain even after the pumps come off.
Anecdotally it has long been said that regularly wearing high heels shortens the calf muscle. Study leader Professor Marco Narici, from Manchester Metropolitan University, said in the 1950s secretaries who wore high heels complained that they struggled to walk flat-footed when they took their shoes off. [BBC]
From a group of 80 women, the researchers chose 11 women who had frequently worn two-inch or higher heals over the past two years and complained of pain when they weren't wearing the shoes. MRI scans showed no difference in the calf muscle length of these women, but sonograms did. Sonograms showed that the Achilles' tendons were stiffer, making it difficult for the calf muscles to stretch when the women were not wearing their heels.
"This confirmed the hypothesis that when you place the muscle in a shorter position, the fibres become shorter,” said Prof Marco Narici, who led the study. "We found the Achilles' tendon was the same length in the two groups, but in women who wore high heels it was much thicker and stiffer, making it harder for them to stretch their feet out when they were on the flat." [The Telegraph]
The researchers say that this doesn't mean that heel-wearers should give up their favorite shoes entirely. They suggest stretching exercises and switching now and again from stilettos to other shoes.
Fortunately, only die-hard fashionistas appear to be at risk. Discomfort "will primarily occur in women wearing almost exclusively high-heeled shoes," says [coauthor Robert] Csapo. In the study, the women who experienced pain wore heels for an average of about 60 hours a week. [CNN]
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Image: flickr / Herr Bert