Big heels, big problems

Leonardo da Vinci called the human foot “a masterpiece of engineering and a work of art.” A foot has 26 bones, 33 joints and more than 107 muscles, tendons and ligaments.

Humans frame feet with the shoes they wear. One of the forms is high heels, which date back to the 15th century, according to the Guardian, when women wanted more than basic protection.

But there are some concerns with heels, said Jonathan Garvin, an orthopedics technician at USF Health. Garvin said wearing heels changes a woman’s way of walking into an awkward and unnatural stride. The body leans forward, putting all its weight on the front of the feet instead of spreading it out evenly.

“Since women have a passion for looking sexy, taller, stylish and more professional, they might as well open up an invitation for foot problems down the road,” Garvin said.

One of those who opt for heels is public relations major Amanda Hamman, who has been wearing heels since age 15. Two years ago, Hamman was in a car accident that left her in a coma and subsequently, a wheel chair for six months. She lost leg muscle and had a titanium rod inserted in her left leg.

She wears heels at least five hours a day – five days a week. Hamman said heels actually helped her recover.

“Wearing heels is like exercise for my leg,” she said. “At first I couldn’t even wear them. I could only wear wedges because I wasn’t well-balanced in heels.”

Hamman said she loves heels because they make her feel more feminine, and she said all women should own at least one pair of black heels to go with everything.

But for most women, heels don’t do beautiful things for their feet, Garvin said. Some heels are 8 inches high.

Garvin said those might cause immediate injuries and lesions, such as calluses, pain and sprained ankles. Also, showing off those “killer heels” too often leads to long-term conditions, such as bunions and hammertoes.

Heels can potentially cause more serious problems, such as trapped nerves, toe deformities, metatarsalgia – or stone bruise – and Achilles tendonitis, Garvin said. However, feet are not the only part of the body that suffer, he said.

“As you walk, the knees, hip and back are in a somewhat flexed position, preventing the muscles which run across the back side of these joints to stretch out as they normally would,” Garvin said.

But this doesn’t mean girls need to swear off heels forever, said Dr. Charles Nofsinger, an assistant professor in the department of Orthopedics and Sports Medicine at USF Health. Nofsinger said moderation is the key.

“Two-inch heels are a pretty safe way to go,” he said, “because that amount of lift won’t change the biomechanics (of the body) very much. A study looked at women’s dress shoes versus bare feet, and that 1 inch, or maybe 2 inches, made no difference. It’s only once you get to 3, 4, 7 (inches) that it makes a big difference.”

Nofsinger said while shorter heels don’t cause problems, they don’t benefit foot health.

“Medically speaking, I can’t think of a pro (to wearing heels) – I really can’t,” he said.

Nofsinger said the only reason to wear heels is for style.

For Hamman, that’s enough.

“I love heels,” she said. “I think they’re so feminine. I think every wom