Debunking the Main Health Risk of High Heels 

Roger K writes:


Here’s one version of many stories that summarize a recent medical article debunking the main health risk of high heels; similar summaries are found on the web in 161 locations.  (Type “Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health” and “high heels” into Google.)  This story has relevance to the issue of the supposed unhealthy effects of corsets (and girdles) for the following reasons.  First, just because there’s a plausible (“stands-to-reason”) connection between a garment and a health problem, and just because there is also a greater incidence of a health problem in the sex that wears the garment, doesn’t mean there is a necessary problem with that garment.  (An example is the causative relation people used to think existed was that between wearing a tight hat-band (which only men did regularly) and going bald.  Another example is scoliosis (twisted spine); because it affects roughly eight times more girls than boys, it “stood to reason” to anti-corset physicians in the 19th century that corsets were the cause.)


Second, just because specialist-doctors are quoted as condemning a garment (as many foot doctors have condemned high heels) doesn’t mean that they have any real insight into the matter.  They may well be just going along with the crowd and endorsing the popular and plausible connection that everyone else is making.  (Victorian doctors were notoriously unanimous and emphatic in blaming masturbation for causing insanity, for instance.)  Moreover, he may be merely expressing the prejudices of his society’s elite.  Items which are related to body modification have undertones of paganism and/or frivolity and/or sensuality, all of which are on the no-no lists of “respectable opinion,” whether Christian or rationalist (which encompasses most of feminism).


Here’s an excerpt from the Washington Times’ report on the study that supports my contentions, with selected words boldfaced:


This conclusion treads heavily on conventional medical wisdom of the last 250 years or so, which has blamed high heels for sore backs, corns, sprained ankles, abnormal gait, ingrown toenails, shortened calf muscles and hammertoe.  Oxford University public-health studies professor Ray Fitzpatrick, who directed the research, dismissed such beliefs as "clinical speculation. Perhaps there was also a nonspecific belief that there's something unnatural about high heels," he told the London Times yesterday.  Mr. Fitzpatrick was also dismayed by how little research had been done on high heels and a health link.


Now here’s the study-summary itself:


High Heels Could Be Good For Your Knees, British Researchers Find

September 29, 2003
London (dpa) - Dedicated followers of high-heeled fashion could be doing their knees a favour, even as they scrunch up their toes and bend their spines, according to new British research into arthritis of the knee. The worst damage to knees is done by being overweight and doing heavy cleaning work, such as scrubbing floors, according to a study by
Oxford Brookes University , published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health Monday.


So many women suffer from arthritis of the knee joint that doctors speculated that wearing high heels might trigger the condition, but they found being overweight before the age of 40 was much more likely to increase the risk in older women. About two per cent of over-55s suffer from knee osteoarthritis and the condition is twice as common in women as it is in men. In the survey of 111 women aged 50 to 70, 29 had varying degrees of knee pain.


Ray Fitzpatrick, a professor at the university, said 55.2 per cent of the women with knee arthritis had worn eight-centimetre heels regularly compared with 67.1 per cent of the healthy women. "Several factors were significantly associated with osteoarthritis of the knee, including previous knee injury, heavy smoking and being overweight. But wearing high heels was not one of them," he said.


"If anything, wearing high heels seemed to be associated with a reduced risk."


MORE PERTINENT COMMENTARY, the last most contemporary:

Tests for Balance O.K. High Heels (Aug, 1939)

Filed under: Just Weird, Personal Appearance — @ 3:14 pm

Source: Popular Science 8-1939 

Tests for Balance O.K. High Heels
  A METAL pencil has just written upon smoked paper a vindication of high-heeled shoes for women. Testing their effect upon body balance, Dr. Walter Mendenhall, of Boston, finds that girls wearing the much-maligned footgear can often stand more steadily than barefoot subjects. The telltale pencil, attached by a headband, recorded
a subject’s wavering upon a chart.


The High-Heels Controversy (Nov, 1957)

Filed under: Personal Appearance — @ 12:05 am
Source: Science Digest 11-1957
High-heeled shoes are physically and psychologically best for women’s wear, says a British doctor, contrary to the opinions of many authorities.
Careful tests on special scales have shown, said Dr. Owen McDonagh, that high heels throw the weight onto the heel rather than onto the toes, as is frequently charged.
Physically, he said, the added weight on the heel eliminates slouching, produces more healthy breathing, and adds inches to the bust.
“But the greatest effect is the psychological one,” Dr. McDonagh went on, climaxing a debate carried on in the British Medical Journal.
“Long legs are admired, and the high heel gives the impression of greater leg length. They give a sensation of slimness.”

A different opinion came from Dr. Reginald Payne, according to the Chicago Tribune, who said high heels produce bow legs and knock knees, and that if men tried to put animals into such contraptions, every anti-cruelty league would have a fit.


How can you have “bow legs and knock knees” at the same time?

Comment by Sorcerer Mickey — September 26, 2007

Comment of site owner: Wow, not only are high-heels good for women, apparently they give them bigger breasts!


High-heel shoes shoot up female sex life: Study


Posted online: Wednesday, February 06, 2008 at 1440 hrs IST

London, February 6: "The sight of stilettos may shoot up a man’s libido. But, if a study is to be believed, wearing the high-heel shoes can boost a woman’s sexual desire.

Researchers in Italy have found that wearing higher heels - earlier linked to a range of problems - actually improves a woman’s pelvic floor muscles, thereby boosting her sex life.

“Women often have difficulty in carrying out the right exercises for the pelvic zone and wearing heels could be the solution. It’s good to know they have potential health benefits,” according to lead researcher Dr Maria Cerruto.

The researchers analysed a study of 66 women aged under 50 before coming to the conclusion.

They found that those who held their foot at a 15 degree angle to the ground had as good posture as those who wore flat shoes, and crucially showed less electrical activity in the pelvic muscles, an essential component of female body.

According to the researchers, this suggested the muscles were at an optimum position, which could well improve their strength and ability to contract.

However, Gill Brook, a women’s health physiotherapist in Britain, stressed the study did not suggest that stilettos were a good thing for those keen on improving their pelvic floor function.

“But for women who like a slightly higher heel, these are reassuring findings -- although we haven’t yet done away with the need for regular exercises to maintain what is such an important part of the female body,” the ‘BBC News’ portal quoted her as saying.



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