Why the Switch from High Heels to Flats Can be Painful

After spending most of your time in stilettos, changing to ballet slippers can hurt

In an episode of her short-lived reality TV show High Society, Tinsley Mortimer confessed that it pains her to wear flats. The hobnobbing socialite spends so much time gallivanting about in four-inch heels that when barefoot in her apartment, she finds herself walking on tiptoes.

As someone who could not find a comfortable heel to save her from certain old-lady-shoe death, I rolled my eyes and snarled at her admission. It all sounded a little far-fetched and snobbish. And I suppose she breaks out in a rash when she has to ride the subway, too?

But, as it turns out, science has got Tinsley’s back—and feet. According to a small study published in the July issue of the Journal of Experimental Biology, wearing high heels on a regular basis can actually shorten our calf muscles, making it uncomfortable to walk flat-footed. Call it a casualty of living the fabulous high-fashion life.

Researchers recruited volunteers who wore two-inch heels religiously for at least two years and compared their leg muscle structure to women who never wore heels. (I can hear fashionistas everywhere scoffing: “You call two inches a high heel?” No, ladies, neither do I.) Women who lived in high heels had calf muscles that were 13 percent shorter than women who preferred flats. That’s because the calf muscle fibers are constantly contracted. The high-heel-wearers’ Achilles’ tendons had also become thicker and stiffer to help compensate for the shorter muscle. This allows their calf muscles to function optimally as heel devotees walk in their stilettos, but it also leads to discomfort when walking on flat feet, because the tendon cannot stretch sufficiently.

If this all sounds rather alarming to Manolo fans, fear not. The researchers do not advocate giving up your heel collection. Instead, one of the study's researchers, Marco Narici, Ph.D, physiology professor at the Manchester Metropolitan University in England, recommends stretching your calves at the end of each day to avoid soreness. Try doing these simple calf and heel stretches from iVillage.

As for Tinsley, since she can effortless pay for and prance around in four-and-three-quarter-inch Jimmy Choos, I’m sure she’ll have no problem finding someone who can stretch out her calf muscles for her.

Which pains you more: Walking in high heels or walking in flats? Chime in below!

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