By Alice Smellie
Ever wondered why a modest pair of kitten heels leaves some women in agony while others are happy to stride around in their ‘comfortable’ high heels for hours on end?
The answer doesn’t necessarily lie in cunning insoles, expensive designer shoes or even iron-clad toes, but something far more unusual: the shape of your foot.
According to the experts, some women are simply built for wearing sky-high heels, while others will be uncomfortable in any size of heel.
The key is to find out which is best for you — and now, thanks to a simple equation devised by consultant podiatrist Emma Supple which has gone viral on social media, you can.
Surprisingly, it doesn’t dictate that we all ought to be in sensible flats.
A heel-wearer herself, Emma realised over years examining women’s feet that many complained about foot pain in spite of wearing so-called sensible flats.
She calls her shoe maths Perfect Heel Height (PHH) and uses it in her London practice when confronted with women who suffer pain because of wearing the wrong shoes.
‘It’s fundamental in my clinical work,’ she says.
The measurement is based on the flexibility of the talus, the one bone which connects the foot and the leg.
The talus is a strangely curved bone set on top and at the front of the foot, and the way in which it moves dictates how high a heel you ought to wear.
‘If the talus tilts downwards when you are holding your leg out straight and relaxing your foot, then you have a lot of mobility and can wear high heels with ease,’ explains Emma.
‘Your foot can move up and down much more. But if your talus doesn’t tilt, then you will be more comfortable and far happier in flat shoes. Flatter shoes give a right-angle to the ground and don’t require as much movement from the foot.
‘Some women find heels unspeakably uncomfortable, and there’s nothing they can do about this.’
Statistics support the fact that many women simply aren’t getting their footwear choices right.
According to the College of Podiatry, sore feet cause the average woman 23 days of pain every year. That’s an hour-and-a-half a day. The wrong footwear can lead to sore muscles, corns and blisters, as well as long-term problems such as knee and back pain. A vital part of this is, of course, heel height.
‘I noticed many patients complaining about pain and then saying, in tones of hurt righteousness, that they always wear flat shoes,’ says Emma.
‘What they didn’t realise is that the structure of the ankle and the foot mean some women are naturally more comfortable with a higher heel. If you consistently wear the wrong heel height for your foot, then you are more likely to suffer discomfort.
‘Ballerinas are able to wear very high heels — look at how they are able to rise en pointe, with the foot at 180 degrees. Quite often I tell patients that they have dancer’s feet.’
HOW TO MEASURE UP
Anyone can work out their Perfect Heel Height in just a few minutes. All you need is a chair, tape measure, pencil and a willing friend.
(1) ‘Take off your shoes, sit down and hold one leg straight out in front of you, relaxing your foot,’ says Emma.
If your foot sits naturally at a right angle to your outstretched leg and does not dangle, then you have less mobility in the talus and will be more comfortable in flat shoes than in high heels.
If the top of your foot falls forwards, in a straightish line following your leg, you are a natural heel wearer.
(2) To find your optimum heel height, get a friend or partner to help stretch the tape measure from your heel in a straight line parallel to the floor, then place a pencil at the ball of your foot at right angles to the tape.
(3) Reading the tape measure where it hits the pencil will give you your ideal heel height.
Unsurprisingly, if women are informed that their ideal heel height is three inches high, they can literally dance for joy. But then, Emma points out, they realise that their favourite shoes are that height anyway.
‘I personally have a pair of three-inch-high Russell & Bromley heels which I adore,’ she says.
But what happens if you wear the wrong shoe? Well, if you ought to be wearing flat shoes, then high heels will be very uncomfortable. Your foot simply shouldn’t be pushed into that angled position for any length of time.
‘If a woman is wearing the right heels, she looks comfortable — you can tell instantly from the way in which she walks.’
If your anatomy dictates that you’re best off in higher heels, then pop on a pair of stiff flat shoes and chances are you will trash them rather quickly. Your foot moves more as you walk, which means you’ll be working the shoes twice as hard.
There is a maximum height for heels, though. Emma says she wouldn’t recommend more than three inches for day-to-day wear, even if your measurement suggests that four or five is perfect.
‘Yes, you will be able to wear that higher heel more easily than most, but the height is likely to affect posture so your body is thrown backwards. Your bottom will stick out, which risks lower back pain.
‘Women have learnt to auto-correct — we tuck in our tail bones, but even so toes are pushed down into the front of the shoe, which can cause pain,’ says Emma.
Be sensible, she says. ‘Wearing a too-high heel too frequently can lead to long-term problems such as hammer toes.’
Heel position is also vital. The heel of the shoe ought to be directly under the heel bone for maximum stability.
‘Lots of designers mess around and put it too far back on the shoe,’ says Emma. ‘This means you’re striking down too far back on the heel every time you walk. It’s one way to break the heel of the shoe and send you tumbling.’
A Forties-style shoe is by far the best, and ideally it should have a buckle for extra support. ‘The type of heel doesn’t matter as long as it’s in a central column under the heel bone.’
Any heel is still putting pressure on the front of the foot. ‘If you’re in pain, then walk away — literally,’ says consultant podiatrist Matthew Fitzpatrick, who also sees many patients who are unable to wear flat heels.
‘No one, however flexible the talus, is going to be able to wear a pair of six-inch heels for long.’
He says that there are other considerations when choosing the most comfortable height of heel.
‘The sinus tarsi is a tunnel within the foot, running from left to right, and is another of the components which give the ankle flexibility. It sits just below the talus and above the heel bone.
‘The more mobile (therefore larger) the sinus tarsi — and it’s not dependent on the size of the person — the more likely you are to be able to tolerate high heels. Theoretically, if it’s smaller then you are more likely to need lower heels. However, the only way of assessing the size of this is via ultrasound and other scans.’
He says that what the PHH equation highlights is the fact that everyone has different needs.
It looks as though Kate Moss is probably the perfect candidate for flat shoes and, unsurprisingly, it appears that Victoria Beckham is the walking embodiment of high- heeled elegance.
And what about Emma? ‘I’m wearing three-inch heels at the moment and I feel as though I’m walking on air,’ she says, adding that she finds flat shoes less comfortable.
Clearly — and perhaps not surprisingly — her own heels measure up perfectly.
Source: Daily Mail | not affiliated with Aetrex Worldwide