I spent most of my wedding barefoot. And not because I'm a hippie or I got married
in a daisy-strewn field. No, it was because my feet were killing me.
I did manage to make it down the aisle, take pictures and even do our first dance
in the silver d'Orsay pumps I'd salivated over for months. But I had to kick them
off shortly thereafter because, after wearing heels to my rehearsal dinner the night
before, my tootsies couldn't take another night of walking around on tiptoes. My
poor feet felt the same way my arms and thighs did after an overambitious session
of swinging kettlebells. They were tired, stiff and sore.
It turns out, wearing high heels does give the muscles of the front of the feet
quite a workout. And not in a good way.
"The densest part of your foot is your heel; that's what is designed to bear most
of your body weight," explains Katy Bowman, biomechanist and author of Every Woman's
Guide to Foot Pain Relief. High heels pitch your body weight forward, forcing
the more delicate bones and connective tissue of the front of the feet to do all
the heavy lifting. Not only does that leave feet sore, it also contributes to a
host of unpleasant issues, including bunions, plantar fasciitis, hammertoes and
even arthritis in the hips and knees. "Studies in leading scientific journals show
that the effects of footwear begin with painful and deformed feet, but can migrate
north, creating alignment changes to the skeleton."
Way to be a downer, Katy Bowman! But she's not the only messenger of high-heel peril.
Your aching feet are telling the same story, just using a different means. You may
not want to give up high-heeled shoes entirely, but you can counteract their harmful
effects with a few easy stretches. Aim for 5 minutes of stretching for every hour
spent on your feet while wearing heels. "Doing these stretches after every time
you wear heels undoes a lot of the otherwise permanent damage," says Bowman. I'll
click my heels to that.
Roll Out the Kinks
Sit or stand while rolling one foot at a time over a frozen bottle of water. The
rolling stretches the muscles, ligaments and connective tissue of the feet, which
get tight in the typically narrow foot beds and toe boxes of high heels. The ice
reduces swelling, inflammation and pain.
Give Your Toes Some Space
The muscles in between your toes can get squished and tight when you wear heels,
resulting in tension as well as potential nerve dysfunction and related pain. To
stretch them, sit with your feet on an ottoman. Then separate your toes until you
can see slivers of the stool between each little piggy. You can use your fingers
if you can't get the toes to move apart from each other on their own free will.
Or, use some foam toe spacers. You can also purchase toe alignment socks at my-happyfeet.com,
and wear them while watching TV or sleeping. For the biggest stretch, slide one
finger between each toe and hold hands with your feet, maneuvering your fingers
all the way down to the webbing between each toe.
"Your toes are designed to spread apart and move independently, just as your fingers
are," Bowman says. Even if your toes won't budge on their own, keep trying to use
the muscles of your feet to spread before you do it with your hands or your toe
spacers. You will see dramatic improvement over time. "Spreading your toes regularly
increases strength and flexibility in the feet, as well as circulation and nerve
health," Bowman adds.
Stretch Your Calves
Research shows that long-term use of high heels decreases the length of a woman's
calf muscles by 13 percent. Why should you care? "Short calf muscles change your
gait, which then overloads your joints, and can contribute to osteoarthritis in
the knee and hip," Bowman says. On top of that, all that decreased muscle length
contributes to a lower metabolism, she adds. To counteract that shortening, roll
up a bath towel and place it on the floor. Place the ball and toes of the right
foot on the towel, keeping the right heel and entire left foot on the floor. Stay
for 1 to 2 minutes, then switch feet.
Unclench Your Toes
If your shoes didn't cover the backs of your heels, your toes had to grip with each
step to keep the shoe from flying off your foot. Release those clenching muscles
by standing, shifting your weight on to your left foot, and moving your right foot
about 12 inches behind you. Point your right foot and place the tops of the toes
on the floor. You should feel a stretch along the tops of the toes and the front
of the foot. Stay as long as you can (cramping is normal at first), then switch
feet. "Work up to holding the tucked position for a minute, repeating on each foot
two to three times daily," says Bowman.