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January 25, 2011

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'Killer'heels hazardous to health

IT'S the season for parties. And fashionable high heels are a must. The higher the better. Many women are slaves to fashion, believing that the heels make their legs look longer and more attractive. They give a boost not just to their height but also to their confidence.

But spikes can be hell on heels and quite dangerous.

More and more women are wearing higher and higher heels and doctors are worried.

Some stilettos can be as high as 12 centimeters (4 3/4 inches) and we've seen those sexy models taking pratfalls on the catwalks.

Many women wear them almost everywhere, though not stilettos. Though heels reduce mobility, with practice women can run or even jump in high heels. Some young women say they don't know how to walk without them.

Beyond scrapes and bumps, there's a serious health price to pay for added height and allure.

For years orthopedists and podiatrists have been warning about the dangers of long-term wearing of high heels - and as heels increase in height the warnings become more insistent.

Doctors say extended wear can cause long-term damage to the feet, ankles, tendons, calves, knees, pelvis and spine. It can mean a lot of pain. They can cause bunions, hammer toes, corns and painful heel bumps.

Basically, high heels make the wearer raise the heel above the toes, and thus, the center of gravity is pushed forward.

When that happens, wearers bend the lower back to compensate for this; that bending changes the position of the spine and puts pressure on nerves in the back.

Changed pressure points cause most of the problems, according to Dr Jiang Zaifeng of the acupuncture and massage department of Liangcheng Community Hospital.

When people stand straight without heels, there are three normal pressure points in the foot - the ball of the foot, the outer side and the heel, says Dr Jiang.

"But when the heel is lifted, most of the body weight shifts forward and over time this causes a series of problems."

As the body adjusts to high heels, more pressure is placed on the ball of the foot, the calves and the back. Stress causes sore and tired muscles. Long-time stress often leads to frequent pain in the lower back and legs. The Achilles tendon can be permanently shortened.

The cushioning function of the arch is reduced, increasing wear on the ankle, knees and spine.

Bunions are a painful and often permanent swellings of the joint of the big toe; they are common for women who often wear pointed-toe shoes. Squeezing feet into the shoes forces the big toe toward the second toe; standing in heels then puts more pressure on the forward part of the foot, pushing the big toe further. The joint becomes deformed; surgery is required in severe cases.

Squeezing the feet into the unnatural shapes of a shoe can also cause infection around nails, corns and deformed toes. Toes have to bend to fit into pointy shoes and over time they may become "chicken-toes." Numbness and nerve damage are possible.

Painful corns and ingrown toenails are common problems aggravated by wearing high heels that put pressure on the fore part of the foot.

Just say no

Of course, kicking the high-heel habit or seldom wearing heels is the best way to prevent and relieve problems. But that seems impossible for most women.

"Since it has become a necessity for most women, I just advise against wearing heels that are too high," says Dr Jiang.

The safest height is 3-5 centimeters and nothing should be higher than 7 centimeters - anything above is an instrument of torture, he says.

Wearing low heels or flat shoes is advised when possible in the office. In any case, heels should be removed every two hours and the feet rested and flexed.

Soaking the feet in hot (not too hot) water before bed relieves sore muscles in the feet and calves. Massaging, pressing acupuncture points and pounding can help.

Acupressure or moxibustion on the yong quan acupuncture point on the sole relieves tired feet, legs and back because the kidney meridian (energy channel) travels from yong quan through the back.


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