Hello down there! Your feet may feel far away from the sciatic nerve, the source of your lower back, rear, and leg pain, but any stress or pressure your shoes put on them can affect the upper half of your body. Pick your shoes wisely then, expectant mothers. High heels can contribute to your sciatica symptoms, as the unnatural arch they create in the foot can cost you something very valuable: your musculoskeletal health. Being kind to your feet during you pregnancy months is therefore important. While giving up your heels for 9 months may feel like a wardrobe loss, you should also consider the health gain: relief from sciatica. Sciatica and high heels just don’t mix!
The Hazard of Heels: Modern Day Foot-Binding
In China, foot-binding was a custom where young girls’ feet were bound up tightly to restrict their future growth, resulting in tiny, underdeveloped feet–a mark of beauty in the Chinese culture. Although this tradition has been fading away since the 20th century, we have, more or less, replicated this ancient process with the invention of high heels. In the name of fashion, women today are putting on–err, squeezing their feet into–heels, a choice that results in foot damage similar to that seen in the foot-binded Chinese women. Take a look at the overlap:
- Broken foot bones, especially the toes
- Prone to re-breaking
- Faulty foot circulation
- Infections (in-grown toenails)
- Body is thrown off balance
Women throughout the centuries have sacrificed their health for fashion, using the fashion advice “no pain, no gain” to justify their actions. But you may have to make an exception to this rule during pregnancy, as high heels can also be a catalyst for sciatica.
Sciatica and High Heels: Heels Worsen Musculoskeletal Health
Heels hurt, not heal. With all the extra strain on your pregnant body (especially from the weight of your growing baby), your body needs a strong musculoskeletal system to support it. Wearing high heels frequently during your pregnancy does more damage to the core areas of your musculoskeletal system–spine, lower back, and pelvic region–therefore aggravating existent sciatica pain and pressure. Lets face it, sciatica and high heels don’t mix:
Spine: During pregnancy, your center of gravity shifts forward due to the uneven distribution of weight. With your expanding belly pulling you forward, additional stress is put on your spine, as the spinal column works to stabilize and balance the body. If you pair your pregnancy bump with high heels, it becomes an even bigger health no-no. Heels also move the center of mass in your body forward. By elevating the heels of your feet, pumps put your spine and hips at an awkward angle from one another, throwing them out of alignment; your posture increases the amount of weight your spine must bear. The more strain on your spine, the greater your pre-existing sciatica symptoms as well as your risk for disc damage and other health issues that can lead to sciatica.
Lower Back: You lower back also takes a hit from heels. Heels disturb the foot’s natural arch, not only causing your calf muscles to become strained, the tightening of the Achilles tendon and knee joint pressure but also a shift in your pelvic area. With your pelvic region already going through changes from the loosening effects of your pregnancy hormones, heels will not make matters better. The arch of a heeled foot rotates the already vulnerable pelvis downward, causing your lower back to feel pressure. Increased pressure in the lower back will only further inflame sciatica pain.
The Sciatica-Friendly Pregnancy Shoe
With more women working well into the pregnancy, high heels are becoming a serious cause of sciatic flare-ups. But there are alternatives to the high heel that allow you to remain fashionable without aggravating your sciatica. Do not think you can get away with just decreasing the heel height, as one-inch heels still angle the foot in a way that can fuel your sciatic nerve pain. On your next shoe shopping adventure, you should cruise the aisles and stores for shoes or sandals that angle your foot the least. Although cushioned shoes give the illusion of aiding comfort and decreasing the harmful effects of shoes, the more heel padding they offer, the greater angle your foot is propped up at.
Going barefoot is another option. When you get home from work, kick off those shoes–whether they are heels, flats, sneakers or sandals–and go shoe-less. By letting your feet breathe and come in contact with the earth, you may be exposing yourself to a variety of health benefits such as improved glucose regulation, reduced stress, and better heart health due to less red blood cell clumping. With another advantage of flaunting you naked feet being a more regulated nervous system, a key component in sciatica, the best shoe for your pregnancy may be no shoe at all.
So, stop pumping up your sciatica with high heels. Kick back with low-arched flats, sneakers sandals or go barefoot.