Most medical professionals will agree that wearing your favorite pair of heels is not good for the health of your joints in your legs or low back. Wearing heels changes your posture causing increased pressure on your joints leading to injuries to your feet, knees, and low back pain. As a medical professional, I try not to be a hypocrite when giving advice to my patients. It’s not fair for me to tell a patient to avoid wearing heels, when I spend hours a week in them myself. As an avid ballroom dancer, I am not willing to give up dancing and I have accepted that wearing heels is part of my life as well as the lives of many of my patients and friends. The negative effects of wearing heels can be counteracted by following the simple steps below.
If you are experiencing acute pain and swelling, then avoiding heels is a necessary step to allow your injury to heal. Contact your local physical therapist to create a plan of action to help you quickly return to dancing the night away in your favorite pair of heels.
Step 1: Massage your foot and calf muscles
Wearing heels frequently leads to increased tension in your calf and foot muscles due to increased muscular activity required while walking or dancing to maintain your balance. Using massage balls, such as Yoga Tune Up Therapy Balls®, or even a lacrosse ball to massage the muscles in your foot and calf will ease the muscular tension and decrease pain.
Step 2: Stretch your calf
Wearing heels leads to a shortening of the calf muscles and Achilles tendon. As these muscles shorten, they create a chain reaction of forces that pull on your heel where they attach leading to foot and heel pain. There are 2 main calf muscles that must be stretched.
Hold each stretch 30 sec and repeat 3 x on each leg.
1. Begin with your standing near a wall for support with your feet in a staggered stance.
2. Keep your back knee straight and both feet facing forward.
3. Push your hips forward toward the front leg while keeping the back heel on the ground until a stretch is felt.
1. Begin standing near a wall for support with your feet in a staggered stance
2. Both feet must be facing forward.
3. Slowly bend your back knee while keeping your heel pressed into the ground until a stretch is felt in your lower calf or ankle.
Step 3: Strengthen your toes
Our toes play an important role in our balance when walking in high heels Maintaining mobility and strength in your toes will help you counteract the effect of wearing heels.
1. Sitting in a chair with one foot resting on a towel.
2. Spread your toes and scrunch the towel with your toes pulling the towel toward you.
3. Repeat for 1-2 min per foot.
1. Begin sitting in a chair with both feet resting flat on the ground directly under your knees.
2. Keeping your 4 toes resting on the ground, try to lift the big toe up toward the ceiling. Then Lower the big toe back to ground.
3. Repeat 10-30 times.
4. Keeping your big toe resting on the ground, try to lift the last 4 toes up to the ceiling while the big toe remains resting on the ground.
Step 4: Strengthen your core
A strong active core is vital for maintaining correct posture while walking or dancing in heels. The exercises below help strengthen your abdominal and gluteal muscles which are necessary for maintaining proper posture while wearing heels.
1. Begin lying on your back with both knees bent and your feet in line with your hips.
2. As you exhale, draw your abdominal muscles in and lift your hips off the ground while squeezing your buttocks, or gluteal muscles.
3. Slowly lower back to the ground, relax and repeat. The movement should be slow and controlled.
Step 5: Create balance in your ankle muscles
Balancing the strength in your ankle muscles helps maintain correct alignment in your ankle and leg which alleviates stress to your knees while wearing heels. It’s common to have decreased strength in the muscles in your outer calf that keeps your ankle aligned when in heels and helps prevent ankle sprains. The exercise below will strengthen your calf and help align and activate the muscles needed to correct ankle alignment leading to improved stability and balance when dancing in heels.
Heel raises with tennis ball
1. Begin standing near a wall or table for support.
2. Place a small ball between your ankles with your feet parallel.
3. Squeeze the ball with your ankles as your slowly raise your heels off the ground and slowly return to the ground.
4. Relax your ankles in between reps, squeeze the ball and repeat. Try to keep your toe muscles relaxed as you lift your heels.
Step 6: Contact your local physical therapist
Everyone is unique and has their own combination of strengths and weaknesses that lead to injury. Being assessed by a physical therapist to create a personalized program of strengthening and stretching will help you counteract the effects of wearing heels while allowing you to maintain a healthy and active lifestyle.