How would you figure out how much pressure a 100 lb. woman's high heel would produce as she walks? — JB, Boulder, Colorado 

If the woman were standing still, with about half her weight on the heel of her right shoe, she would be exerting a force of 50 pounds on the floor under that heel. Since a spiked heel is about 0.33 inches on a side, its surface area is about 0.1 square inches (0.33 inches times 0.33 inches). Since a force of 50 pounds is applied to an area of 0.1 square inches, the pressure on the floor is 50 pounds divided by 0.1 square inches or 500 pounds per square inch. That's about 30 times as much pressure as the atmosphere exerts on objects at sea level.
But when the woman is walking, she often lands hard on that heel, so that it supports her entire weight and then some. The extra force comes about because she is accelerating—when she lands, she is heading downward and the floor must push upward extra hard on her to stop her downward motion. If we suppose that the total downward force she exerts on the heel reaches a peak of 200 pounds—not at all unreasonable—the pressure the shoe exerts on the floor reaches 2000 pounds per square inch. No wonder spiked heels damage floors and present a serious hazard to nearby toes!


