Tuesday, October 23, 2012

High heels can be bad

A group of Australian scientists from Musculoskeletal Research Program at Griffith University in Queensland, Australia, have burst the bubble for all high heel wearers by publishing a study which supports power dressing in high heeled shoes may cause damage to some. The study examined the effects of habitual high heel use on the neuromechanical behavior of triceps surae muscle during walking. The small study of 19 subjects (average age 25) consisted of 9 habitual high heel wearers who had worn shoes with a minimum heel height of 5 cm at least 40 h/wk for a minimum of 2 yr, and 10 control participants who habitually wore heels for less than 10 h/wk. 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. Human movement requires an ongoing, finely tuned interaction between muscular and tendinous tissues, so changes in the properties of either tissue could have important functional consequences. Findings revealed heel wearers moved with shorter, more forceful strides than the control group. The same movement pattern continued even when the women kicked off their heels and walked barefoot. As a result, the fibers in their calf muscles had shortened and they put much greater mechanical strain on their calf muscles than the control group did. Researchers concluded long-term high heel use had the potential to shorten medial gastrocnemius muscle fascicles and increase Achilles tendon stiffness. Women wearing high heels appeared to significantly engaged muscles rather than tendons, especially the Achilles tendon, leaving it weakened and potentially vulnerable to injury. Researchers added this style of walking requires more energy to cover the same ground as someone in flats, and likely causes more muscle fatigue. Whist the consequences of these changes for locomotor muscle-tendon function are unknown the results suggest long-term high heel use may compromise muscle efficiency in walking. The authors concluded long-term high heel use may also increase the risk of strain injuries.

Cronin NJ, Barrett RS, Carty CP 2012 Long-term use of high-heeled shoes alters the neuromechanics of human walking. J Appl Physiol 2012 Mar;112(6):1054-8.

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