Heel-wearing girls know that a good pair of pumps are like instant confidence. High heels elongate the legs, "lift" our thighs and glutes, and instantly transform an outfit from standard to chic. However, we can't deny that after a full day of strutting around in stilettos, our feet and legs take a major beating. Numbness, cramped calves, and sore tendons and muscles are usually the result of a day spent in high heels. Which begs the question: Does all of this soreness and lifting mean that our calf muscles are, well, growing? According to a study in The Journal of Experimental Biology, not quite.
Keep scrolling to find out the results!
Manchester Metropolitan University professor Marco Narici, the study's leader, gathered a sample of 80 women and narrowed the group down to 11 women who regularly wore high heels measuring at least 2-inches for two years or more who also felt uncomfortable walking flat-footed. From there, Narici and his fellow researchers evaluated the muscles and tendons of both the heel-wearing and non-heel-wearing women.
Based on an MRI scan, the women who wore heels did not have larger muscle mass in their calves compared to women who wore flat shoes. However, an ultrasound showed that the heel-wearing women actually had shorter muscle fibers than their flat-shoe-wearing counterparts. Additionally, high heel-wearers were found to have had thicker and stiffer tendons, especially since walking in high heels doesn't allow your muscles to stretch properly.
A similar study found that women who wore an average heel height of 4-inches over a minimum of two years have shorter muscle fibers than a control group of women who wear high heels less than 10 hours per week. Measurements were taken while the participants walked on level ground barefoot. The researchers' results suggest that high heel-wearers experience comprised muscle efficiency in walking and are at an increased risk of strain injuries. However, there was no difference in muscle thickness between the participant groups.
What This Means
So while wearing heels doesn't necessarily make your calves bigger, per se, it does shorten the tendon, causing discomfort. This doesn't mean you need to stop wearing heels, but Narici suggests stretching out the foot periodically to ease discomfort and tightness. To do this, stand on your tiptoes on a step, balancing yourself on the handrail while you raise all the way up and down until your heel hangs over the edge of the step. Another way to ease calf stiffness is to alternate between heels and flats to give your feet and legs a break from time to time.
To also get a really good stretch, try the OPTP Stretch Out Strap ($16).
Csapo R, Maganaris CN, Seynnes OR, Narici MV. On muscle, tendon and high heels. J Exp Biol. 2010;213(Pt 15):2582‐2588. doi:10.1242/jeb.044271
Cronin NJ, Barrett RS, Carty CP. Long-term use of high-heeled shoes alters the neuromechanics of human walking. J Appl Physiol (1985). 2012;112(6):1054‐1058. doi:10.1152/japplphysiol.01402.2011