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Creators of the Lost Arc

By Beth Landman
Posted On Aug 09, 2016
Creators of the Lost Arc

Love to be a towering inferno in high heels? There are some upsides, sure. But be careful those spikes don’t cause issues that will douse your fire.

By Beth Landman

Woman wearing cheongsam and high heels, standing on one legThe park avenue office of podiatrist Suzanne Levine, who cares for the feet of Anna Wintour, Katie Couric, and the like, is an unapologetic shrine to high heels. Glass cases display vintage Prada wing shoes, stone studded 120 millimeter Manolo Blahnik stilettos, a pair of Jimmy Choo patent pumps sketched upon by Peter Max, and a stacked chunky creation signed by Michael Kors.

Although these types of shoes may be exacerbating the sorts of problems that send women to her office, Levine shares a love of them with her patients. She empathizes with those who cautiously strut in on their spikes, rather than scolds them. “I never tell my patients not to wear heels,” says Dr. Levine. “They are works of art as well as sexy and chic, no question. Can you imagine seeing a celebrity walking on the red carpet in flats? I’ve always worn heels and I’ve gotten a lot of flack from colleagues because of it.”
The pros of elevated shoes are pretty clear. “They push the pelvic area back and the chest forward, which creates an ‘S’ curve that is considered desirable,” explains Dr. Stuart Mogul, a podiatrist with his own Park Avenue practice. “Heels don’t just make you taller, they give an illusion of a longer leg.” As a result, heels boost a woman’s self esteem. A new study from Nicolas Guéguen of the Université de Bretagne-Sud in France, published in Archives of Sexual Behavior, found that men are more willing to assist women who are wearing heels than those sporting more sensible footwear.

In addition to the psychological upsides, there are actually some physical benefits to higher shoes, such as strengthening the pelvic area, including the bladder. “Some studies show that heels increase muscle tone in the pelvic floor because the body is pitched forward, and in order to balance you have to contract those muscles,” explains Dr. Mogul.

Heels also give you a workout. “They accentuate the calf, as if you are doing calf raises you actually stretch the leg and strengthen it,” notes Dr. Levine. “It’s like taking a barre class, and when you come off heels you are automatically stretching. It’s one of the ways gravity actually assists you.”

NYV6_1_WBeauty05aThe list of negative effects is a bit lengthier. Because the spine and hips are pushed out of alignment, the muscles of the calf, hips, and back are fatigued and strained. “When you wear heels the lower back is hyperextended, which decreases the space available for nerves in the lower spine, and that can exacerbate stenosis,” explains Thomas Scilaris, M.D., a Manhattan orthopedic
surgeon.

The Achilles tendon is also shortened, which over time can make it difficult for a woman’s heels to touch the ground. The knees are also taxed, with up to 20 percent increase in pressure. The ball of the foot endures an even greater increase in pressure between 22 and 76 percent, depending on heel height and shape of the toe box. That not only adds to back pain but aggravates bunions and hammertoes and can cause Morton’s Neuroma, a painful condition in which tissue thickens around nerves in the foot and causes a sensation akin to a sharp little pebble digging into the ball of your foot.

“Spiked heels push weight to the ball of the foot, so you can get stress fractures,” says Dr. Brenna Steinberg, a Maryland podiatrist. “It’s very common to get inflammation under the head of the metatarsals [bones] from putting too much weight on them, and to break the small sesamoid bones in that area.” Increased overall stress can result in degenerative joint disease. The biggest immediate danger may be toppling while in your unsteady shoes, twisting or even breaking an ankle.

“I treated a CEO who fractured her ankle when she tripped in high shoes,” says Dr. Scilaris. “When I told her she would have to wear a cast or boot, she said, ‘But I came out of the womb in heels!’” Since most of us would only give up leg-enhancing heels if life depended upon it, there are some things we can do to protect our bodies.

Elongating the muscles of the leg with a basic runner’s stretch and exercising the feet can strengthen and help shield them against injury. “If you put the ball of your foot on a step and push the heel down, that will help stretch out the Achilles,” advises Dr. Mogul. Dr. Scilaris suggests TheraBands (thera band. com) to strengthen the peroneal muscles and tendons.