Bunions, corns, broken toenails, painful blisters, callouses, crooked toes … These are just a handful of problems that can affect your feet when you wear high heels. In the long run, your addiction to this style of shoe can also do harm to your legs and back, creating tension in the muscles and ruining your posture.
But you don’t have to put your stilettoes away just yet. You can still wear heels without putting your body through hell. All you have to do is pick the right pair and be mindful of how you stand and move in them.
Dr David Su, orthopaedic surgeon at Mount Elizabeth Hospitals, offers these practical tips when buying and wearing high-heeled shoes.
1. Choose heels with a roomy toe-box
Heels put a lot of pressure on the front of your foot, specifically the balls of your feet and your toes, so it is important not to wear heels that have a narrow toe-box, as this only squeezes your toes, making them feel cramped in. As well as being painful, especially if you wear your heels for several hours at a time, a narrow toe-box can also lead to unattractive corns and bunions. A bunion, which is a swelling of the first joint of the big toe, can cause a great deal of pain, and in serious cases may require surgery to correct.
If the heels you already own have narrow toe-boxes, you can send them to a shoe service and repair store to get them stretched out, depending on what material they are made from. But the next time you go shoe shopping, avoid buying heels that leave your toes with little to no wiggle room. If you like that elegant, pointy-toed look, Dr Su says that some brands offer heels with normal-sized toe-boxes but with a triangular tip at the end to make the foot look slimmer. “Just be sure to find a good balance between design and comfort. You don’t want to compromise your health for the sake of aesthetics,” he explains.
2. Open-toed heels might be better for broader feet
If your feet are wide and you cannot find heels with a roomy enough toe-box, you may want to buy open-toed heels. Unlike closed-toe shoes, which squeeze around the front of your foot, open-toed shoes allow your toes to stretch out a little bit more, reducing the risk of pain and foot damage.
3. The height of your heels matters
Naturally, if you do not feel confident or comfortable wearing super-high, spindly heels, then don’t. You have to try on different heel heights to know what you feel good in. Remember, you have to walk and perhaps even run in your heels, and the last thing you want is to fall and hurt yourself. Wearing very high heels is risky in this sense, so do be careful, says Dr Su: “If you fall while wearing high heels, you may suffer from severe ankle sprains or even fractures, because high heeled shoes have a greater rotational force through the ankle and foot, compared to flat or low-heeled shoes.”
4. Stretch your feet and legs whenever you get a chance
Wearing high heels causes you to arch your back. In the long run, this can stress out the lower back muscles and cause lower back pain. If you wear or walk around in high heels all day, Dr Su advises you to step out of them every few hours to relieve pressure in your toes and feet. Wiggle your toes, stretch your feet and calves, and do a few back strengthening exercises, to prevent pain in your legs and feet, and get rid of any muscle tension that may be contributing to the discomfort when you are in heels. “A tight calf can cause pain at the Achilles tendon insertion as well as calf aches,” Dr Su explains. “Additionally, over time, a tight calf can lead to metatarsalgia, or pain in the balls of the foot, even when you are not wearing heels. Lower back pain as a result of muscle spasms can also result from long-term use of high heels.”
5. Wear low heels or flats when you can
If you are going to be sitting at your desk and don’t have to be in high heels, consider wearing more comfortable footwear, just to give your feet, legs and back a break, says Dr Su. Instead of slippers, which do not look professional, keep a couple of pairs of low heels or flats under your desk and swap them with your stilettoes when needed.
6. Your core stability has a lot to do with how comfortably you wear high heels
Wearing heels reduces the weight-bearing surface area of the feet. This overloads the bones in your feet, and in the long run, causes your calf muscles to tighten up. And because your feet are in that tiptoe position when they are in heels, your back has to stay arched and this can lead to back pain and spine problems. Dr Su says that strong back muscles will help you keep your balance when wearing heels. A strong back also helps brace the spine, reducing your risk of lower back pain.
Core strength exercises and flexibility training are beneficial to preventing lower back pain. These exercises work to strengthen your core – also known as your “centre of power”, and which includes your abdominal muscles, back muscles, the muscles around the pelvis, sides and buttocks. Your core muscles work together to allow you to bend, twist, rotate, and stand upright.
Forearm Planking: Balance on your forearms and toes, ensuring that your back is straight. Pull your belly button up towards your spine, and hold this position for 30 seconds. Repeat five to 10 times.
Quadruped Hip Extensions: Balance on your hands and knees. Extend your right arm and your left leg at the same time. Hold this position for about 10 seconds. Now switch, extending your left arm and your right leg. Hold for 10 seconds. Do five to 10 reps for both sides.
Reverse Crunches: Lie on your back on the floor. Rest your arms by your sides. Bend your knees and bring them in towards your chest, making sure that your feet are together. Lift your buttocks up slightly and then lower them, all the while keeping your knees bent and your legs and feet together. Use your abdominal muscles to bring your knees to your chest and to lift your buttocks off the ground. Repeat 20 times per session.
Single Leg Lunge: Stand with one leg in front of the other. The knee of your front leg should be aligned with the ankle. Lift the heel of your rear leg off the floor. Now, keeping your back straight and resting your hands on your waist to keep your balance (if you wish), bend your back knee while simultaneously bending your front knee. Lower your body slowly into the ground, making sure that your shoulders and hips are even and your abdominal muscles are pulled in. Hold the lunge for five seconds before slowly straightening your knees and raising your body back up. Repeat a few times on each side.