A Scientific Look at Heeled Shoes. A nice follow up to the Zero Drop trend this week.

This blog post was from a year ago, but seems to be appropriate to follow up our two “zero drop” articles this week. Enjoy


Can you think of a better way to start the week than with a discussion of high heels? We all like high heels… Well, at least guys do (and we know quite a few women who do as well…some of you may be reading this post). NO, WE DO NOT LIKE TO WEAR THEM, but we can admire the way they make the calves look so great and the increased lumbar lordosis and accentuation of the greatest gait muscles ever created!

Were they based off “chopines” from the 15th century; an elevated shoe (7-30 inches high!) which kept the peoples feet literally “out of the muck” (they didn’t have modern plumbing back then) or are they older? Or was the heel invented out of necessity to keep horse riders literally “in the saddle” ? Chinese and Turkish history says maybe they were to keep women (particularly concubines) from escaping. For the intents of discussion, we will stick with this last premise, as it fits nicely with the findings of this article (based on the study published here)

Remember the neuromechanics posts on muscle spindles or golgi tendon organs (GTO’s) ? If not, click the links and check them out; suffice it to say that the take home message is: Spindles respond to length and GTO’s respond to tension.

We also remember that GTO;’s modulate the muscles function that they come from. In other words, they literally “turn off” the muscle they come from (it is a disynaptic, post synaptic pathway for you neuro geeks out there). In light of that, lets look at some quotes form the article:

“the scientists found that heel wearers moved with shorter, more forceful strides than the control group, their feet perpetually in a flexed, toes-pointed position. This movement pattern continued even when the women kicked off their heels and walked barefoot. “

No surprises here. Go up on your toes and take a few strides (more difficult for guys, since the biggest heel we may have is about 12mm in our running shoes). Which muscles are engaging? See how difficult it is to take a full stride? Try to engage your glutes. Not so easy, eh? Now put your foot flat on the floor, extend your toes and NOW engage your glutes. Easier? Presyanptic loading of the motor neuron pool pays big dividends!

They go on to say: “As a result, the fibers in their calf muscles had shortened and they put much greater mechanical strain on their calf muscles than the control group did.”

Hmmm… shortened muscles put under greater tension. Sounds like a job for the golgi’s, and what do they do? Inhibit the muscle from contracting. No wonder is was harder.

“In the control group, the women who rarely wore heels, walking primarily involved stretching and stressing their tendons, especially the Achilles tendon. But in the heel wearers, the walking mostly engaged their muscles.”

Wow, here is evidence They changed their motor programming!  Did you ever think that high heels could change the way our brain works? Maybe it’s a secret plot to take over the world….or maybe not…

The Gait Guys…Lovers of high heels as long as you don’t walk in them….