In the past, I've devoted plenty of blog space to a very hot topic: women who are forced to wear high heels to work. In Canada, many provinces have banned this practice. Here at home, not so much....and, apparently, the situation in Japan is even worse. So, this Labor Day, I want to take a long hard look at what's happening to women's feet as a result of their jobs. Even if many of us have shifted to work-at-home options. 

It's time to stand-up against mandated high heel wearing!As a culture, the Japanese people are more likely to wear uniforms, starting at a very early age. And there's nothing wrong with that, per se. Except, for many women, that 'uniform' has gone to extremes. Many women in Japan are banned from wearing glasses to work. And many others are forced to wear high-heels as part of their on-the-job uniform. 

Now Yumi Ishikawa, is taking a stand. She started the #KuToo movement. The nameis a play on the Japanese words for shoes (kutsu) and suffering (kutsuu). As she's spreading her #KuToo hashtag, she's making ties to #MeToo. Which reminds us that mandating your physical appearance can be a kind of sexual harassment.

In 2019, Ishikawa asked the Japanese government to outlaw high-heel mandates at work. Unfortunately, representatives defended footwear regulations. The excuse? “It is socially accepted as something that falls within the realm of being occupationally necessary and appropriate.” 

To a Houston podiatrist like-myself, this government-sanctioned discrimination is shocking. As if modern women don’t have enough to deal with these days. Like pay-inequality and that awful glass ceiling. But they’re also forced to give themselves foot pain on the job. And it's not just a temporary issue. Over time, all-day high-heel wearing can lead to major health problems. 


5 Ways That High Heels Change Your Body

1. High heels change your posture. They put your body in an unnatural position. And that really stresses out your joints. In flats, your spine stays pretty straight. But when you put on heels, that spine forms more of an 'S' shape. Your chest and lower back push forward and your hips get pushed back. The height of the heel also changes the amount of weight on your forefoot. A 1-inch heel will increase the pressure by 22%; a 2-inch heel by 57%; and a 3-inch heel by 76%. This increased pressure puts the forefoot at risk for injuries such as stress fracturesbunions, and hammertoes.  High heels are a major reason why women's feet hurt more than men's

2. Knee pain is common when you wear high heels. Higher heels put extra strain on your knee joint and tendons. Then, your quads work harder. And those overworked muscles put more pressure on your kneecap. (It could go up an extra 26%!) This isn't just a temporary problem. Wearing high heels regularly? The stress will increask your risk for osteoarthritis in your knee. It can also lead to tendinitis in your quads.

3. Keeping your heel elevated can shorten and tighten your calf muscle and Achilles tendon. That's why real high heels addicts actually find it painful to wear flats. Sometimes, you'll even need surgery to lengthen your Achilles tendon. Even in less serious cases, you increase your risk for Achilles tendinitis or shin splints.

4. The changes in posture and overall imbalance will lead to instability when walking and a resulting risk of ankle sprains. High heels, especially stilettos, will lead to instability and a major increase in ankle sprains result. An ankle sprain is caused from the twisting of the ankle and results in a tear of the ligaments that connect the foot and leg bones and stabilize the ankle. When the heel is balancing on a narrow stiletto heel, if the heel shifts outward slightly a sudden twist may occur to sprain these ligaments. Swelling, bruising and pain will result. At worst, it is possible for the ankle to fracture, a ligament can pull a piece of bone off, or even a bone in the foot can break due to the pull of a tendon.

5. High heels are enjoyed by most women because they are "cute." They are narrow and are contoured to make the foot look slender. The tight fit of many heels will force the toes to conform to its shape. The added pressure on the toes can exacerbate bunions and hammertoes. The pressure of the shoe itself can cause corns to form. Furthermore. The compression of the metatarsal bones can cause pressure on the nerves that run between them. A Morton's neuroma, which is a growth and inflammation of the nerve, can form due to the pressure. Remember, a shoe is meant to fit the foot, not squeeze it relentlessly.

While the overall percentage of women wearing high heels daily has decreased, the percentage reporting physical problems from wearing them has increased. This is likely due to the newer styles that have been introduced. Some have no choice but to wear the shoes for work, however comfort is a priority. Pain should not be a price for style. Be sure to always wear a shoe that is right for your foot. Of course, if the pain continues, be sure and visit your podiatrist.



Dr. Andrew Schneider
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A podiatrist and foot surgeon in Houston, TX.
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