What High Heels Are Really Doing to Your Body
Some Cannes Film Festival-goers were denied entrance to the famous gathering for—wait for it—choosing flats over high heels. But those flats-wearing women had the right idea: High heels can be hell on your feet. Here's how to stem the serious damage they do (since, yeah, you're probably gonna wear them anyway).
Leave it to the French: A controversy was stirred up at this yearâs Cannes Film Festival last week when women were reportedly turned away from a screening of Cate Blanchettâs movie Carol for being inappropriately dressed. The sartorial crime? WearingâsacrÃ© bleuâflats instead of high heels.
âMultiple guests, some older with medical conditions, were denied access to the anticipated world-premiere screening for wearing rhinestone flats,â reads the Screendaily.com report.
Other attendees were not impressed. Actress Emily Blunt, who was asked about the crazy dress codeÂ at a press conference the next day for her movie Cicario,Â called itÂ âvery disappointing,â adding,Â âI think everyone should wear flats, to be honest. We shouldnât wear high-heels anymoreâ¦I prefer to wear Converse sneakers.â
Amen to that, Emily. You probably know that your "killer" heels can be rough on your feet just from wearing 'em. ButÂ here's what they're actually doing to your whole body, plus how to lessen the effects.
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Why high heels hurt so bad
Join the club. No kiddingâhigh heels can be hell. Check out the numbers: Women have approximately four times as many foot issuesÂ as men, according to the College of Podiatryâsomething podiatrists contribute to the wearing of high heels. Whatâs more, a 2014 survey by The American Podiatric Medical Association (APMA) found that nearly half of all women (49 percent) wear high heels, even though the majority of heel wearers (71 percent) say the shoes hurt their feet.
Cramming your feet into pointy-toed shoes can lead to a laundry list of foot problems:Â calluses, hammertoes, bunions, plantar fasciitis and neuroma (a tingling, burning or numbness in the foot). Pretty, huh? And the trouble can travel up your legs. A 2012 study in The Journal of Experimental Biology found that over time, heels can tighten and shorten your Achilles tendon, leading to muscle spasms and pain.
Whatâs more, high heels can throw your body alignment out of whack. âYour feet are the foundation for your entire body, and when you walkÂ inÂ heels, you change your center of balance,â says Emily Splichal, DPM, podiatrist, human movement specialist, and author of Everyday Is Your Runway: A Shoe Loverâs Guide to Healthy Feet & LegsÂ ($16, amazon.com). When you slip into a pair of high heels, Dr. Splichal says, your feet slide forward into the shoe. "The increased weight on the balls of your feet causes your pelvis to tilt forward," she explains.Â To compensate, you lean backwards, increasing the arch in your lower back, which puts a strain on your lumbar spine, hips, and knees. The higher the heels, the greater the strain.
Your guide to pain-free heel-wearing
Of course, for a lot of women (for example, those at the mercy of the Cannes Film Festival fashion police), itâs hard to avoid heels altogether. And then there are those who donât mind suffering for the sake of fashion. So hereâs how to keep the shoes while minimizing the damage.
Go lower. âStick with heels that are 3 inches or less. Anything higher will change the biomechanics of how you walk, compounding the stress you put on your back and hips,â Dr. Splichal says.
Steer clear of the skinny stiletto. âA thick heel can offerÂ stability and support, and help spread the load more evenly,â says Elena Blanco, DPM, of New Jerseyâs Hackensack Center for Foot Surgery.
Be aware of your posture. âYou should be wearing the heelsâthe heels shouldnât be wearing you,â Dr. Splichal says. âBe aware of how your body is positioned and counter the tilt of your pelvis by keeping a neutral stanceâshoulders back, chest out, soft knees. And resist the urge to fall on the ball of your foot by distributing weightÂ evenly on the heels and balls of your foot.â
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Try a new slant. Another way toÂ relieve some of the pressure on the ball of your foot and toes, Dr. Blanco says: Consider aÂ style with a gradual incline like platforms or wedges.
Change things up. âEvery shoe has different stress points, so tease your heel height throughout the week to giveÂ each partÂ of your feetÂ a break,â Dr. Splichal says. âIf you wear 3-inch heels one day, switch to a 2-inch heel the next, then try a flat.â Another way to give your feet a break, per Dr. Blanco: âTuck your heels in your bag and wear flatter, comfier shoes when walking to and from work or to a big event. Then swapÂ the shoes when you arrive atÂ your destination.â
Look for softer soles. Cushioning inside shoes acts as a kind of shock absorber, lessening the impact of your foot hitting the pavement and reducing the strain on your knees, says Dr. Blanco, who recommends comfy brands such as Clarks, Ecco, and Cole Haan (which employs Nike Air cushion technology). Slip thin gel or foam cushions into high heels you already own to cover and protect the area around the ball of your foot. Try Dr. Scholl'sÂ Dream Walk Ball of Foot Cushions ($6, amazon.com).
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How to undo the damage
Yep, heels can affectÂ your feet, hips, and backâbut you can prevent pain with a few simple moves:
Work the hips. "The more flexible your hips are, the better you'll be able to tolerate the stress that heels put on your body,"Â says Dr. Splichal. âKeep them limber by doing at least five minutes of hip flexor stretchesÂ before and after putting on highÂ heels.â
Whip outÂ a golf ball. And roll it under the ball, arch, and heel of your foot for five minutes in the morning and evening.Â This feel-good move massages feet and keeps themÂ flexible.
Step it up. Stand on a step barefoot, letting your heels extend off the edge. With your weight on the balls of your feet, lower your heels down as far as you can, then rise up onÂ your toes and slowly return to the starting position. Repeat for about 30 reps.
Flex your toes. Sit barefoot in a chair and loop a towel under the toes of your foot. Pull up gently on the ends of the towel, pulling your toes toward your chin. Repeat 10 times on each foot.
Write the alphabet. To strengthen your ankles and improve range of motion, use your big toe to trace each letter of the alphabet in cursive in the air, moving only the foot and ankle.
Make like a monkey. Place about 20 binder clips on the floor. Using your toes, pick up one at a time and drop it into a cup. This will stretch the bottoms of your feet.
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