Healthy living

Why swapping high heels for flip-flops causes pain

high heels And what to do about it

Claims from women that high heels are more comfortable than flats are usually met with disbelief, but science is on their side.

Regularly wearing high heels causes calf muscle fibres to shrink, say researchers from Manchester Metropolitan University. When women then swap their killer heels for flats, the shortened muscle fibres are stretched, leading to pain.

In their study, the researchers used MRI scans to measure the size of calf muscles in 11 women who regularly wore 5cm high heels for two years or more and who said they felt uncomfortable walking in flats.

The results were then compared with those from a second group who regularly wore flats.

Although the size of the calf muscles in both groups of women were the same, ultrasound scans revealed that the muscle fibre length was shorter by an average of 13 per cent in the high heel wearers.

"When you place the muscle in a shorter position, the fibres become shorter," said Professor Marco Narici, who led the study.

The researchers also found that the Achilles' tendon was much thicker and stiffer in the women who wore high heels compared with the flat shoe wearers'. This makes it harder for women to walk in flats as the tendon cannot stretch sufficiently.

Fortunately for some, the professor is not advising women to ditch their Jimmy Choos. However, he does suggest doing some simple stretching exercises to avoid pain when you kick off your heels at the end of the day.

"If you stand on your tip toes and lower your heel up and down again it will stretch out the tendons making it easier to walk without heels," he said.

If you do this about 20 times a day, it would be sufficient to prevent this happening."

The study is published in the Journal of Experimental Biology.

This article was published on Fri 16 July 2010

Image © vincentphotos -

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