High heels should carry a health warning. They can be counted on for a fashionable leggy look and even movie-star glamour and sexiness, but the usual price is discomfort and even damage to the musculoskeletal system. A New Hampshire company in the United States believes it has found a way to reduce the painful price. HBN Shoe LLC of Salem, which markets products under the Insolia brand, claims its weight-shifting inserts will make high heels nearly as easy to wear as sensible shoes.
As reported in the Massachusetts newspaper, The Boston Globe, HBN says its Insolia technology, developed by a team that includes a rocket scientist with a degree from the Massachusetts Insititute of Technology and podiatrist and HBN founder Howard J. Dananberg, shifts the body’s weight off the ball of the foot by changing the inside of the shoe to place the foot into the optimal position for a high heel. HBN says the technology reduces forefoot and toe pressure, gives better balance and improves body alignment and ankle stability. The inserts are small and slim enough to preserve the looks of the shoes, be they stilettos, stilts or closed-toe executive pumps.
The HBN team appears to be the first to approach reducing the potential for harm from glamour footwear by changing foot placement. Other makers on the same quest have relied on cushioning.
In April 2005 the Taipei Times newspaper in Taiwan reported that more brands are marketing air-cushioned high heels or walking high heels. It noted that the Spanish brand Camper’s Minie series features, in the maker’s words, “ergonomically-designed insoles” and a 2-inch heel of synthetic rubber to add “elegance and chic to Camper lines.”
With a similar aim, the Taiwanese brand, La New, plans to introduce “air-cushioned high heels” for their 2005 spring and summer lines. The series provides elasticity and absorbs shocks to the heel, according to the newspaper.
While La New claims its shoes just as sexy as regular fashion lines and less painful, it is careful about its language. According to the company’s vice president, Kuo hsin-cheng, it is impossible to produce a pair of entirely harmless high-heeled shoes. “We can only try to buffer gravity by more refined calculations on the structure and other details of a shoe,” he said in the article.
In an article published by the Mayo Clinic in the United States in July 2006, Jeffrey Brault, D.O., P.T., of the clinic’s Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Department said shoes with stiletto heels aren’t designed with walking in mind. With heels 2 inches or taller, the foot slides forward, cramming the toes into the front of the shoe. That can cause hammer toes, a deformity in which the toes curl at the middle joint. If they are worn frequently, stilettos can contribute to bunions, corns, calluses and toenail problems. He noted that stiletto heels also change the mechanics of the gait. Tiny heels hit the ground with a force several times the body weight, causing knee pain. They also change the center of gravity, meaning the wearer has to arch the back to stay balanced. That arching can cause lower back pain, he said.
The HBN team hopes to change all that. Professionals who deal with the long-term impact of high heels on women’s health continue to underline the ergonomic argument against these fashion accessories. They could choose to remain skeptical about the HBN approach, even while they welcome the pursuit of healthier foot glamour.
Sources: Boston Globe; Taipei Times, Mayo Clinic