Killer heels are a shoe-in for pain

Anne Tobin, proprietor the Anne Tobin Beauty Clinic, offers an insight into our love of the killer heel!

Considering that the average person will walk the equivalent distance of four times the circumference of the Earth during their lifetime, comfortable footwear is of the essence.

The results of a recent survey of British women by the Society of Chiropodists and Podiatrists would tell us, however, that the lure of high heels is eclipsing the importance of comfort. In a report that quips “Confidence and glamour come from the sole”, we are given some intriguing information

Almost half of the 1,000 people surveyed said they would feel more confident when wearing high heels at work and nearly a quarter feel more assertive and acknowledged by others. Eighteen per cent say that wearing high heels can have a positive effect on their chances of a work promotion. Looking around at the hordes of women who totter and clatter the streets in high heels, I would hazard a guess that similar statistics apply in this country. Having worn killer heels for a short period in my own working life, I can empathise with those in the aforementioned survey. There is something uplifting about the raise of the high heel; a certain feeling of false superiority derived from the extra height. However, in my case, the discomfort caused in the form of shoulder ache from stooping, the danger of twisting my ankle if I needed to walk quickly, and the arrival of a bunion, sent me racing back (or limping in my case ) to the refuge of my flatties.

High heels have an implacable prominence in the world of ladies fashion. There is no doubt that they complement an outfit. A dress accessorised by a pair of flat shoes does not, in the majority of cases, have the same elegance as one accompanied by a high heel. However, when high heels become daily footwear they pose a serious risk not just to the feet but to general health as well.

Recent reports, also from the UK, indicate that high heels are costing the nation 29 million sterling a year through injuries to feet. Bunion removal, toe straightening, big top joint replacement, corn treatment, ingrown toenails, and the release of trapped nerves are a litany of operations and medical procedures that are costing sufferers thousands of pounds a go.

Gravity-defying stiletto heels are trademark of many well photographed female celebrities. As I write, I can picture that famous piece of fashion footage where model Naomi Campbell sashays down the catwalk before theatrically toppling over, six inch stilettos waving in the air.

It is clear from all this that while they are apparently an essential style item, high heels are a dangerous piece of fashion and well deserving of their metaphorical killer title. Thankfully, two high profile women recently came out on the subject of high-heeled shoes.

Claire Young, a finalist of BBC’s The Apprentice reality show, spoke of the agony of wearing five inch high-heeled shoes. The five inch heels were her trademark feature as she tough talked her way through the programme, tilted her pelvis, and trapped the nerves in her lower vertebrae. “I’d nagging backache for weeks. Then, out of the blue, I was hit with crippling pain that brought tears to my eyes and numbed my left leg. I though I was having a stroke”. She was told that she had a chronic posture problem, walking with her bottom out, which was accentuated by her use of high heels.

The height of her shoes and positioning of her feet in them was rotating her pelvis forward, increasing the arch in the bottom of her spine and overloading the joints in the lower vertebrae. She went onto say that she is five foot six and a size 14-16 wearing the five inch heels gave her that extra height and made her feel slimmer on camera, which in turn made her feel much more confident. However, she tells us that her heels are now firmly back in the wardrobe.

Victoria Mary Clarke, newspaper columnist and fiancée of musician Shane McGowan, has written of her high heel tribulations. She admits to having lower back pain for as long as she can remember as well as tight calf muscles and occasional sore toes. She now wears heels on special occasions only and suggests that women carry their heels in their handbags and wear them only when sitting comfortably.

As most things, moderation is the key. If worn on special occasions only, with sensible footwear for longer walks, the damage will be reduced. The women who are constantly adorned, despite the derived feelings of confidence and power, are the ones who are taking the greatest risks. And while women are the main wearers of high heels, it is important at this juncture to acknowledge the presence of the ‘Sarkozy effect’. A recent surge in sale of men’s shoes with two inch heels is being attributed to the five foot one inch tall and high heeled French President Nicholas Sarkozy, whose flat-shoed and ultra-fashionable wife, Carla, still manages to tower over him. High heels, however empowering and super trendy they ostensibly are, should perhaps carry a health warning. Killer heels are worn at a cost.

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