In the early 16th century, Venetian noblewomen hobbled around on high platform shoes called chopines. These shoes, resembling silk-covered stilts, were so high that most courtesans traveled with attendants to balance them. Chopines evolved into the high-heeled shoes we know today, but to some, women's footwear still seems as uncomfortable and impractical as it first was. A new study finds that high heels aren't just uncomfortable—they change a woman's legs.
Research from the Manchester Metropolitan University found that women who consistently wear high heels have shorter calf muscles than women who wear flats. Lead researcher Marco Narici says he was inspired to examine women's legs after hearing stories of secretaries in the 1950s who wore high heels every day and complained of pain when they donned flat shoes. Physicians have long been telling their patients that high heels damage calf muscles, but no one actually examined women's calves.
Using an ultrasound scan, Narici imaged the muscles of 11 women who wore high heels (and claimed to be in pain in flat shoes) and compared them to women who did not consistently wear heels.
The ultrasound revealed that the women who wore heels had calf muscles that were 13 percent shorter than the others. Heel wearers have sharper angles to their feet, most likely due to the smaller muscles. High heel wearers also had thicker and stiffer tendons.
The researchers believe the reason chronic heel wearers feel pain when switching to flats is because their tendons cannot stretch out properly.