Why some women hobble without heels?

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Women who routinely wear high heels may feel pain when they don flats because regularly walking around with their heels elevated can significantly change leg muscle structure — causing the calf muscles to shorten and tendons to stiffen — according to a study published online today in The Journal of Experimental Biology.

For the study researchers from Manchester Metropolitan University and the University of Vienna recruited 20 women — 11 who wear high heels so routinely that they felt uncomfortable walking in flats, and nine who didn’t regularly wear heels. Using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and ultrasound to measure the women’s calf muscles, they found that while those who routinely wore high heels had the same volume of muscle as those in the control group, on average the heel-wearers actual muscle fibers were 13% shorter.

When the researchers analyzed the Achilles tendon — which connects the calf muscle to the heel — they found that the length was similar in both groups, but among the women who wore high heels it was thicker and more stiff. The researchers suggest that this may be the cause of pain for women who frequently wore heels.

The good news for high heel devotees, however, is that simple stretching exercises may be enough to counter shortened muscle fibers and stiffer tendons. As lead study author Marco Narici told the Telegraph:

“If you stand on your tip toes and lower your heels up and down again it will stretch out the tendons making it easier to walk without heels… If you do this about 20 times a day it should be sufficient to prevent this happening.”