True Confessions on High Heels

I once lived in high heels. I would work long shifts that involved plenty of standing in what I thought were very tall heels. Although lately when I see what currently passes as high heels, I wonder if mine were really all that high.highheels

Natural Balance Training with High Heels

Nonetheless, I loved the sense of attractiveness they gave. I suppose I even felt a kind of medal of honor for the horrible, aching pain that developed during the long day. No, I wasn’t trying to run from dinosaurs as is the case in the newest Jurassic Park movie. I was just working in a busy urgent care setting that had long lines of patients.

Luckily, I lost interest in heels in my thirties. Luckily because I believe they contributed to some of my hip and back problems at the time, and they certainly didn’t help my gait. Also luckily because I see the deformed and painful feet of women who weren’t so lucky.

Losing balance with high heels

Recent research has found that high heel wearers initially get stronger ankles and shapely calves. Then, something odd happens. As time goes on, the ankle gets less stable and balance is compromised. The experiment was done with newbie Korean flight attendants. Year one of training in heels, they got stronger. By their senior year of training, they were in trouble in terms of good balance.

Researchers found that while some muscles had gotten stronger, others had gotten weaker and the imbalance of the two groups created an instability.

My Feldenkrais take away: the occasional use of high heels, instead of while working long daily shifts, probably leads to resiliency. Generally mixing things up is a good idea. In working with female Tango dancers, none of them are excited about another few hours in heels. Their feet hurt and show the signs of being in heels way too much. However, I do not see a deterioration of balance. They simply couldn’t improve at their sport if that were the case. Perhaps because dance is much more demanding and dynamic than flight attendant work, Tango dancers may not be developing the same ankle instability.

Propulsion forward and up is a particular challenge while wearing heels. There isn’t any place to go down so there isn’t any way to go up. Without propulsion, walking just isn’t the same. But Tango involves more sliding and gliding in every direction than traditional stepping.

Perhaps being able to dance in high heels is a good thing (in moderation). Running or jumping in them, dinosaur or not, is a very bad idea that could lead to serious injury.

Check out the research via the New York Times, which is how I found out about the “well-heeled” young maiden trying to escape being devoured by a giant dinosaur because, well, that kind of movie is not my idea of entertainment.

Four holistic Feldenkrais exercises

If you wear heels, here are four tips to counteract the effects:

1) When sitting, slip the heels off. Then open the front of your ankle by curling your toes backward and lightly rest on the nail side of the toes for a bit off and on.

2) Reorganize the leg using this Functional Somatic exercise from our Gait for Wild Human Potential program. Click to view the video.

3) Play with your feet and toes to restore their natural width. One easy way is what I call Toe Twiddling. Use this video to make toe twiddling a part of your happy, healthy foot routine.

4) Take my Regaining Happy, Healthy Feet classes. They are packed with holistic ways to return to health. Check the schedule for any upcoming classes.

About the Author


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Cynthia is a certified Feldenkrais practitioner, a Senior Trainer in Movement Intelligence, and a co-creator of Integral Human Gait theory. By day, she helps children and adults find easier ways to navigate life challenges and thrive. By night, she is dreaming up new options for how we can all become more fully human through awareness, curiosity, elegance and action.

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