UK researchers say they have
uncovered why women who often wear high heels can find it painful to wear flat
Scans of the calf muscles in a
group of frequent heel wearers found muscle fibres were, on average, 13 per
cent shorter than in those who avoided high heels.
The Journal of Experimental Biology
study also found high heels led to stiffer tendons in the calf.
Some time spent in flatter footwear
as well as stretching exercises would help to combat the effect, experts said.
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.
But no-one has looked at what is
actually happening in the muscle.
From a group of 80 women, the team
selected 11 volunteers who had regularly worn 5cm heels for two years or more
and who felt uncomfortable walking flat-footed.
An MRI scan showed that there was
no difference in the size of the calf muscles in the heel wearers compared with
a group of women who wore flat shoes.
But an ultrasound scan revealed
that the muscle fibres were indeed shorter in the women who wore heels.
In the final part of the study,
they found that the high-heel wearers’ tendons were much thicker and stiffer
than in those who stuck to flat shoes.
This causes discomfort when walking
on flat feet because the tendon cannot stretch sufficiently, Professor Narici
Yet he does not think women need to
give up their high heels.
“Fashion is intended to be
uncomfortable and none of the women in the study planned to give up their high
heels,” he said.
He said one useful tip was for high
heel wearers to stand on tip toes on a step, and using a handrail for balance
to lower their heels as far as they can before raising them up again.