By Dr. Randall S. Juleff
As a physician specializing in vein care, women ask all the time, “Is wearing high heels really a bad thing when it comes to having healthy leg veins?” Now, their husbands ask me if the quantity of shoes can be the cause of something bad. That’s another story all together! Most people think that this is just an old wives’ tale right next to catching a cold because of cold weather. Well, unfortunately, it isn’t a wives’ tale and wearing high heels really does impact the way leg veins function and consequently the overall health of your veins.
There are two types of blood vessels in our body: arteries and veins. Arteries carry blood rich in oxygen from the heart to the entire body. Blood in arteries moves because the heart pumps and forces blood throughout the arterial system. Veins are the blood vessels that carry blood back to the heart to be oxygenated. Blood in veins does not move because the heart is pumping. Instead, it’s dependent on the activity of muscular contractions of the extremities. Leg veins do not have a heart to pump blood, they do however have something we call the “calf muscle pump.”
The calf muscle pump refers to the fact that as our calf muscles contract in the course of walking and other movement, they actually compress the veins they surround and force the blood to move. Working in conjunction with this activity are the hundreds of little one-way valves that are present throughout all of the veins in the legs. When the valves are working normally, muscles contract and force blood to move. The one-way valves make sure the movement is upward and back toward the heart. It’s really a very neat system.
So here comes the bad news! When women wear high heels, there is a lesser amount of contraction activity within the calf muscles. Less muscle contraction means less movement of blood in leg veins even when we’re walking. Less movement of blood means that blood is pooling and this leads to more strain on the veins and ultimately valves are more likely to fail. Valve failure is really what we need to avoid in maintaining good vein health!
Ladies, I would never ask you to limit shoe buying! Being concerned about heel size however, especially for everyday use is probably a beneficial thing when it comes to vein health.
Dr. Randall S. Juleff is a board-certified phlebologist and founder of La Bella Vita Laser and Vein Center.
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