Ready to dance the night away without backache?

Do high heels cause back pain?

After the Christmas festivities, you may be thinking that we can all relax and put our feet up. But as we approach the New Year, there may be more parties to attend! If you’ve ever wondered why your feet feel sore and why you often have backache after a night out, it may not be your style of dancing that is the culprit.

So my awesome dancing isn’t to blame?

Often, the main cause tends to be our footwear. But before you throw out those 4-inch stilettos, did you know that flip-flops could also cause backache? As if we didn’t already have enough to worry about when choosing an outfit! So to begin, let’s look at the connection between our spines and our shoes.

Structural support

The spine is naturally designed to have a gentle s-curve from front to back. Supported by a huge network of muscles, tendons and ligaments, it is connected to the pelvis, which in turn balances on the tops of our thigh bones. These connect at the knee joint to the lower part of the leg (which includes the shin bones and ankle joint). Finally, we have the foot, where its 26 bones and 33 joints provide an amazing base of support, enabling us to propel ourselves in many directions at varying speeds!

The feet need to have a great degree of flexibility and control, allowing us to cope with uneven ground, and transferring forces up the legs so that we can move. When we wear shoes, we add extra factors in to the way that our feet interact with the ground. Depending on the type of footwear, this produces different effects on the way that we move. And anything that changes our body mechanics in a way that we are unused to has the potential to cause discomfort.

Take flip-flops for example; they are easy to slip on, but they have a tendency to fly off when we are walking about. As a result, we may end up gripping with our toes to keep them secure on our feet. Generally, this causes us to take shorter steps, which in turn affects the way that pressure is transferred from the foot up the leg. As we know, any changes in alignment here can have a knock-on effect on the spine.

High heels also affect your natural gait and stride length (hence the phrase “tottering on heels!”)

So why might high heels cause issues?

When you walk in high heels on the balls of your feet, your centre of gravity shifts forwards. In some cases this can cause the lower back to arch. To compensate for the change of balance, we often stick our chests out and force our shoulders back, exaggerating the curve of the lower back even more, and leaving us prone to neck and shoulder tension!

Over time, the increased compressive forces acting on the curvature of the lower back can lead to disc compression. Therefore for some people, the change in loading pattern could aggravate existing conditions. As the body tries to adjust itself, the changes in our lower back could cause problems elsewhere in the body, making issues such as knee or neck pain worse.

What else is affected?

However, on the other foot (!), some studies (1) found that when the heels were elevated, the pelvis tilted backwards, thereby flattening the lumbar spine when compared to a barefoot stance. Further studies (2) commented that the short term effects (flattening) may be different from the longer-term effects (where they suspected that over time, there could be an increase in lower back curvature).

More research is needed in this area, as there could be other factors that affected the results such as age, experience wearing heels and level of fitness. However it would appear that any change in the spinal curves can also affect muscle activity in that region (3).

Researchers found that muscular coordination changed when higher heels were worn (4) . The muscles that supported the spine had to work earlier (and harder) when 4-inch heels were worn. As the buttock muscles were activated later, they were not helping to support the body as effectively when in the high-heeled posture. This abnormal muscular activity could actually be the reason why our backs end up sore after a night in heels.

This is where assessment and treatment by a Chiropractor can be helpful. As well as looking at the alignment of your spine, they can also look at any areas where muscles may be affected. Treatment that takes into account the whole body will be the best approach to help minimise any discomfort during the party season.

What shoes should we choose?

Invariably, if you are not used to wearing them, high heels could put you at a higher risk of experiencing backache and back pain. But remember, so too can flip-flops!

  • Here are some helpful tips for anyone wearing high heels:
  • Try to choose round or square toed shoes instead of those with pointy toes. These can squeeze your toes and make it uncomfortable to walk (not to mention the risk of blisters!)
  • Give your feet (and back!) a break by wearing high heels only for a few hours at a time.
  • If you’ve worn high heels for most of the day, or for a couple of nights in a row, try and spend some time in low-heeled shoes to maintain a bit of balance between the two.
  • Compromise when considering style or comfort – smaller heels of about 2 inches can still be fashionable and may be more beneficial in the long-run than those 6 inch stilettos!
  • Likewise, thicker, sturdier heels tend to be more stable, spreading the weight and reducing the risk of ankle strains!
  • Use non-slip or gel insoles to help keep feet secure and comfortable.
  • Your feet expand during the day; if you are buying shoes, buy them later in the day to ensure they won’t end up pinching. Ensure that any shoes you buy fit well.
  • Lastly, remember to stretch your legs regularly to relieve tired, tight muscles.

So to enable you to see the New Year in with a bang instead of back pain, remember to book an appointment to see Philippa

1. Bendix T., Sorenson S.S., Klaussen K. Lumbar curve, trunk muscles, and the line of gravity with different heel heights. Spine. 1984;9(2):223–227. [PubMed] [Google Scholar]

2. Opila K.A., Wagner S.S., Schiowitz S., Chen J. Postural alignment in barefoot and high-heeled stance. Spine. 1988;13(5):542–547. [PubMed] [Google Scholar]

3. Different ways to balance the spine: subtle changes in sagittal spinal curves affect regional muscle activity. Claus AP1Hides JAMoseley GLHodges PW.

4. Mika A. The influence of high and low heeled shoes on EMG timing characteristics of the lumabr and hip extensor complex during trunk forward flexion and return task. Manual Therapy 2013.

Festive fun or holiday hazard?

As we approach the big day, its time to unwrap some “elf and safety” tips from your cracking chiropractor (ok, I’ll stop there!)

With all the holiday cheer and goodwill, it’s easy to overlook the boring bits (and yes, we guess that includes the bowl of sprouts…) – so what can we do to help with staying merry and bright?

Tree trouble

Did you know that each year, around 1,000 people get injured by their Christmas tree? Decorating the upper branches can involve risky balancing feats. Climbing onto unstable chairs or tables and leaning over the lower branches to reach, can lead to falls. Likewise, putting up lights on roofs in wet or icy weather can be a recipe for disaster. To help keep you injury-free and out of A&E, make sure that you use the proper equipment. A stepladder or kick-step with a rubber base will provide a stable platform so you can decorate safely! This will be less risky than balancing on the arm of the sofa for example.

Lofty ambitions on attic ladders

Falling out of the loft can result in serious injury and this occurs for roughly 1 in 50 people. Getting decorations out is the main culprit. For this reason, think about how you position yourself on your stepladder. Take care when reaching for boxes stored on high shelves and always ensure you have somebody around to assist. This is especially important if you are rummaging around in a dark attic. Boxes may be filled with tinsel and therefore not very heavy, but trying to get them down in haste can lead to problems. If you have existing back issues, remember the basics of safe lifting and carrying. Make sure you don’t overload yourself especially when walking up or down stairs. It is also an idea to wear sensible shoes (even indoors) – fluffy slippers are not suitable footwear for climbing up ladders. Lower back issues can be aggravated by carrying heavy boxes so it may be an idea to consider dividing the decorations into a couple of smaller boxes. This will also make them easy to put back in the loft once the festive period is over!

Tidy up, don’t trip up!

It may sound dull but tidying up promptly on the big day will help prevent injury. Wrapping paper can be slippery if left underfoot, and relatives tripping over trailing ribbons is a risk that can be avoided! Ensuring that cardboard toy boxes are flattened and promptly put outside for recycling will help keep your floors clear of any trip hazards.

Kitchen considerations.

Fancy roasting some chestnuts over an open fire? Around 600,000 people have suffered burns from doing just that. They don’t take long to cook so watch for exploding chestnuts! Remember to never leave open flames unattended, especially with excitable children who may not be listening to the adults.

When carrying a turkey or flaming Christmas pudding to the table, the weight of the tray held out in front can mean that your back takes the strain. Consider asking for help and having two people carry any heavy serving trays. This will share the load and help you bring the food to the table with both style and comfort! Consider your posture when carving the turkey or nut roast too; potential shoulder strains from sawing back and forth can be avoided by using a sharp or electric knife.

Present problems.

On that point, although 1 in 5 people cut themselves while preparing vegetables, it seems that the most common Christmas injury happens when opening presents. To prevent cuts from ripping off paper while attempting to get into boxes, have scissors, a screwdriver and a pair of pliers to hand. That way you can safely click through the gift wrap, and undo any fixings that may be holding a toy inside the packaging for example. Trying to prise open a cardboard box with your bare hands may sound like fun, but it can cause muscular strain. Injury can occur when the box finally gives way, possibly causing you to twist to one side or wrench your arm or shoulder. Likewise, kneeling or sitting on the floor with younger relatives for example can cause discomfort in the hips or knees, especially if it is not a position that you are used to being in. You may not notice any twinges of discomfort during all the excitement but things can often start to feel worse a few days later.

Christmas Chiropractic care!

A combination of alcohol, too much food and extra stress at this time of year can often make us feel worse, lowering our pain thresholds ad causing us to not look after ourselves. It is important to take some time to look after yourself so that you are better able to spread joy! Consider having a silent night (well, a quiet, early one!) in preparation, stay hydrated and look after your mental wellbeing too. Why not book an appointment with your chiropractor Philippa if you think you need to be treated prior to Christmas Day? Remember our tips for back care over the Christmas break and enjoy the time with your friends and family!

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Website Created by WebHolism