So, you wore those show-stopping stilettos over the weekend. Bad decision? Pain-wise, maybe. Your feet now look like elephant’s paws, and you probably feel like you've exposed a raw nerve. However with new evidence confirming the confidence-boosting benefits of high heels, it’s no wonder more than 80% of women “put up with” pain when wearing high heels. It’s not rocket science that high heel elevation of more than 4cm are predisposing factors to musculoskeletal pain and postural changes, however the ill-effects of fashionable flats fly under-the-radar.
Whether it's sneakers, ballet flats or slides, flats can also wreak havoc on your posture - even though they're far more comfortable than heels - as they lack the support and structure of other footwear options. What's more is that these options could also be contributing to back and foot pain, and even affecting your performance at the gym. So with approx. 2.5x your body weight being loaded through your feet every step, we’ve put your pumps, and their effect on your posture, into perspective.
1. Give yourself a lift
When standing in a flat shoe (0-4mm heel elevation from heel to toe) our weight is directed towards the heel, causing compensations of the foot, legs and hips to prevent the body from falling backwards. Common muscular adaptions that can lead to more permanent postural changes include the over activation of our shin muscles, forward flexion of the hips and poor use of our posterior chain (including calf muscles, hamstrings and glutes). Over time this can lead to excessive toe extension, weakening and/or overuse of the calf muscles and tight hip flexors. These subtle changes can effect your yoga practice and gym form let alone contribute to back pain and aching legs.
With ballet flats and canvas topped sneakers notoriously flat, try choosing your fashionable (not-so) flats with a wedge of 8 - 20mm at the heel. Beware of flat shoes that curve to be higher at the toe than at the heel (look at them on a flat table) as they create a negative heel which will exacerbate changes.
2. Sole salute
With many fashionable flats designed with an unforgiving sole (i.e. firm rubber, cork and leather) the shoe is essentially an extension of the hard floors we walk on. So to navigate the modern terrain of concrete and tile, our inbuilt shock-absorbing mechanisms are often exploited, causing muscular and postural changes to occur. On the flip side, shoes that have soles made from really soft material lose their integrity quickly and will often exacerbate poor wear patterns and can lead to overuse injuries of the foot and ankle.
Look for midsoles engineered from moderately dense material i.e. foam or EVA, that bend to approximately 70 degrees under the ball of the foot.
3. Core stability
Although many of the iconic sneakers originated as vintage tennis, basketball and running shoes, take a look inside a fashionable flat shoe and you probably won’t find much in the way of support or stability. How do you know? If you can rotate the sole like you are wringing out a towel, or you can fold them in half, there is a lack of structural integrity. What does this means for your feet and posture inside these contemporary classics? The lack of a shank means our muscles are required to work harder to maintain biomechanical balance and arch support. This can cause arch muscle fatigue leading to collapse of the arch and rotation at the knees. This newly adopted foot posture and knee position can play havoc with your leg stamina, muscle control and ability to box jump and burpie without a pain hangover.
The good news is? A slim line, off-the-shelf well-designed insole (such as the EB flats footbed) can be fit perfectly into a fashionable flat to improve your faves the core stability, cushioning and arch support that they lack.
- Emily Braidwood x
See the article at Body + Soul.