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Are high heels bad for your back?

Are high heels bad for your back? Do a quick google search and you’ll probably be convinced that the answer is yes. But, dig a little deeper to try and understand it more and you’ll find some studies that suggest wearing high heels may not have any effect on your back.

are high heels bad for your back? saratoga spine

This is part 3 in our series on how shoes affect your back. See also:

Part 1: What are the Best Shoes for Back Pain?

Part 2: Your Back and Flip Flops – Are they a Good Pair?

Are High Heels Bad for your Back’s Health?

Some articles online will suggest that wearing high heels can affect your posture and, over time, lead to anatomical changes1. These reports will suggest that high heels shift the body’s weight forward, putting more pressure on the ball of the foot. The rest of the body then attempts to compensate for this change, causing:

  • increased pressure on the knees and calf muscles
  • the lower back to be pushed forward, changing the alignment of the spine and hips
  • the chest to be pushed outward

In general, these articles suggest that wearing high heels causes changes in the spine’s natural curvature and excess strain on the muscles. As a result, an individual who wears high heels regularly may end up with:

  • Spondylolisthesis – a condition in which the position of one vertabra is changed in relation to the others
  • Stenosis – a narrowing of the spinal canal causing pressure on the nerves which results in pain

What Does the Research Say?

Does Wearing High Heels Change the Curvature of the Spine?

A 2012 study by Russell, et al2, attempted to confirm whether or not standing in high heels caused an increase in the curvature of the spine, called lumbar lordosis. In this study, the curvature of the spine’s lumbar region was measured in 50 individuals while standing in bare feet. The individuals (both male and female) then stood in high heels and their spine’s curvature was measured again. The researchers did not find any significant difference in the individuals’ spinal curvature when they were wearing high heels as compared to when they wore no shoes. This study could not confirm that standing in high heels had any impact on the curvature of the spine. Further research would be required to understand the effect of walking in high heels.

Does Walking in High Heels Change the Curvature of the Spine?

In 2017 a different group studied the effect walking in high heels had on the same condition, lumbar lordosis3. This group studied all women, some who wore high heels regularly and some who wore high heels infrequently. The curvature on the spine was measured in all participants in three conditions: walking bare foot, walking with a low heel (~1.5″ tall) and walking with a high heel (~4″ tall). The results of this study showed that wearing high heels decreased the curvature of the lumbar region of the spine. This is the direct opposite of the common thoughts on the subject!

In Summary

So, what’s the verdict? Are high heels bad for your back? According to science, there is no definitive conclusion. However, there is much that is not understood about the anatomical effects of wearing high heels. So, most professionals would recommend that you listen to your body. If you feel an increase in lower back pain when wearing high heels then maybe it’s time to take some corrective action. Spend some time in flats and make sure any shoes you’re wearing fit correctly and offer proper support.

References

  1. The Spine Health Institute
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23449540
  3. http://www.gaitposture.com/article/S0966-6362(17)30108-X/fulltext

 

Blue Distinction Center for Spine Surgery