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Posted: November 26, 2011  : Add to Mixx! Subscribe to stories like this Share

Leah Larocque's Column
Leah Larocque is a graduate of Queen's University (2011) in Kingston, Ontario where she ran track and cross-country. She was Ottawa's "Road Racer Of The Year" in 2010. She has a personal best time of 17:32.9 which she set while winning the Ottawa Race Weekend 5K in 2011.
In 2010 she was the first local finisher in Emilie's Run leading the OAC Racing Team to a first place in the team competition.
Leah is currently an Intern with Premium Client Services for the Ottawa Senators Hockey Club. She is continuing to run and will be writing a regular column for the Runner's Web.(Column Index)

Athletics: The Curse of High Heels

They can be a girl's greatest accessory, or a form of self-afflicting pain. I am talking about something most of us continually put on every day before we head to the office. Huge stores are dedicated to them, and Jimmy Choo made millions off of making them. You guessed it. I am talking about high heels.

Since I have been working in an office environment I have been feeling the pressure to wear shoes that give me a little more height and pizzazz. My ballet flats, Birkenstocks, and, tear, my running shoes, just won't cut it in this setting. But I continue to struggle with the comfort level of work shoes and their ability to make my chronic injuries act up.

Last year when my parents and I took a vacation to go see some plays at Stratford, I packed really high wedges that went really well with my summery floral dress. However, after walking a weekend in them, my plantar fasciitis flared its ugly head, and I was forced to cross train and not run for a few weeks. All it took was a few hours in really bad shoes to take me off running for weeks. This was the same effect that happened when I was training intensively for track and was wearing spikes more often with no support. I don't know what it is, but my feet cannot handle going to those extreme heights without proper support. No matter how cute they are.

However, this week, I decided that I needed to invest in some footwear that would allow me to not only comply with fashionable standards, but also keep my feet intact. Buying proper work shoes is an important consideration for any runner, and as much as it pained me, (and my wallet) I had to lay out the bucks to buy a good pair of shoes, or I knew I would be laying out the bucks for six weeks of physiotherapy.

Thin high heels have long been known to be bad for your feet and joints. But American researchers say wearing them can go as far as contributing to osteoarthritis.

"Everyone knows that high heels are bad for you," said Danielle Barkema, a biomechanist. "Wearing even higher heels puts individuals at even greater risk of developing knee osteoarthritis later in life. It can get to the point where there's bone-on-bone contact, and knee replacements are in order."

For women, we are notorious for wearing bad, but pretty, shoes. Wearing heels adds greater compression to the inside of a woman's knee. Barkema conducted a study with a colleague that compared flat shoes with 2-inch heels and 3.5-inch heels. They used sensors, cameras and other equipment to measure the forces and shock waves in the legs of women, ages 18 to 40, as they walked in each type of shoe.

At either their own chosen speed or at a pre-determined fixed speed, the women were asked to perform a series of trial walks. According to Barkema, the goal was to get around the natural tendency for women to walk slower in heels and the influence that might have on physical loads and walking style.

The study found that wearing heels changed women's posture, caused their ankles to tilt inward and destabilized their ankle joints. There was also significantly more loading on the inner knee, which was even greater in the higher heel. This type of inner knee pressure, called medial loading, is a known risk factor for joint degeneration and osteoarthritis.

In another study conducted by British scientists, women who wore high heels five times a week for two years had calf muscles that were 13 percent shorter and Achilles tendons that were substantially stiffer and thicker than those of women who wore flat shoes. The distance the high-heel wearers could flex their feet up and down was also drastically reduced.

To be honest, my research this week did not surprise me in any way. I knew that high heels were bad for you and I have the aches and pains to prove it. But what a pain that the prettier the shoe tends to get, the worse it gets to you! And to make matters worse, I looked into other office garb. Apparently pantyhose can be good and bad. A pro, is that they can prevent against varicose veins. They can create a little bit of compression and the pantyhose can help alleviate the aching, throbbing, and irritation that often accompany varicose and spider veins. But, on the other hand, pantyhose can increase foot sweating, and therefore make you more prone to a fungal infection like athlete's foot. And in case you didn't feel better, nylons can exacerbate skin rashes, especially for people who are allergic to latex.

So, when I went to the shoe store, I tried to find a happy medium. I tried on for my own interest the heels that were so high; it took all my yoga-balancing ability to stay upright. But gosh, they were nice and since I am not that tall, I didn't look like a giraffe. And then I also tried on the most comfortable pair of moccasins and I sighed deeply as I placed them back on the shelf because they just simple would not go with my power suit. I felt weird in those really high shoes. I couldn't walk naturally and my steps were short and choppy and my hips really swayed. My back hurt after about five minutes too.

I wish Dress Down Friday included wearing my Asics to work. But I know I would look extremely out of place. Even some of the women at my work can rock the jean look with fantastic black boots. Aside from adapting to the 9-5 work week, the office conduct, policies, and procedures, I must also adapt and find a happy medium in proper footwear. I consider myself a runner above an office employee. There, I said it. Because of that, the health of my feet comes before the necessary clip-clip that my heels make as I walk down the hall.

But some women can manage. I guess they are just stronger than I am. In the meantime, I will try to manage with a bit of a heel. Jimmy Choo and the ultra-high stiletto shoes are a bit of a stretch for me right now (and my budget). The fantastic four from Sex and the City may be able to have a closet full of shoes and wear them without a problem. But I want to know if they run ten kilometers a day? And what happens when the camera stops rolling? They say that beauty hurts- but at what cost?

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