ABU DHABI // Lina Hamdan hardly ever wears flat shoes, preferring to hit the town in any one of her more than 50 pairs of high heels. It is not just because they look better, says the 32-year-old Palestinian, who works for an advertising and public relations firm in the capital. "My feet hurt when I wear flat shoes, unless they're proper running shoes."
She is not alone. A new study has found that women who wear high heels have shorter calf muscles than those who do not - making it painful to walk normally. The calf muscle fibres were found to be 13 per cent shorter in those who often wear high heels, according to the study, published in the Journal of Experimental Biology. Researchers led by Professor Marco Narici, at Manchester Metropolitan University in England, took magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans of 11 women who had regularly worn heels of 5cm or higher for two years or more, and who said they were uncomfortable in flats.
Dr Niveen el Saleh, a chiropractor and pain management specialist at the California Chiropractic and Sports Medicine Centre in Dubai Healthcare City, said a heel of more than 2cm put strain on a woman's ankles, knees, spine and neck. "The shortened calf muscles will affect the knees and make them hyper-extend, which means a woman's gait is no longer correct and her knees are too straight to support her," she said.
Walking places a biomechanical force on the ankles and knees that travels to the back and spine. Wearing heels throws this force out of line, placing pressure on the ankles. They in turn are forced to work harder, causing long-term degeneration of the knees, as well as problems with the lower back. "Lower back pain is the number one complaint we get as chiropractors, whether in emergency rooms or private clinics," said Dr el Saleh. "Although heels are not the only cause, they are one of the main factors."
Maitha al Romaithy, a 27-year-old Emirati, wears heels even to the mall. They were a must under her abaya, she said. "Emirati women like to wear high heels and carry nice designer bags to look different from each other, since we are all wearing a black abaya," she said. Despite knowing that her footwear could be storing up long-term problems, Ms al Romaithy has no plans to change. "It has really just become an automatic thing to reach for a pair of heels when I get dressed and want to look my best," she said.
Dr el Saleh usually tells her patients to choose when and where they wear their high-heeled shoes. "I like high heels myself," she said, "but I wouldn't wear them if I knew I'd be walking or standing all day. I'd wear them out to dinner, where I'd be sitting more of the time." Professional women should take off their shoes under their desk, she added. If they have to wear heels during their work day and will be walking a lot, they should make sure the heel is no more than 2cm.
Brintha Wazir, 27, was in Wahda Mall searching for the perfect heels to wear to a wedding next month. The mother of two, from India, does not wear them often, and when she does, they are usually wedges. "For some occasions, you have to wear heels because it is appropriate, in the way that it is not appropriate for me to run after my children wearing heels all day," she said. Wedges or platform heels, said Dr el Saleh, were much safer than stilettos. "The thinner the heel, the more damage it can cause," she said. Ms Hamdan, meanwhile, was unrepentant. "All women look better in heels and what woman doesn't want to look as good as she can manage?" she said. @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org