Weekly Wellness: Look at those legs! Exercises for heel wearers
COLUMBIA - For many of us, high heels are part of our daily workplace uniform. For others, they are part of our "special occasion" wardrobe. And for those "high heel weekend warriors", they are worn with red lipstick and a gorgeous clutch bag.
For anyone who wears high heels, there are some exercises that can be performed to help you wear them well (and with less pain or chance of injury).
There is a lengthy list of issues high heels can cause. From calluses to corns and bunions to hammertoes, your feet are at risk of some incredibly unpleasant issues. What are these things and how can we prevent them?
Calluses and corns are caused by repeated pressure or friction on an area of skin. The pressure causes the skin to die and form a hard, protective surface. A soft corn is formed in the same way, except that when sweat is trapped where the corn develops, the hard core softens. This generally occurs between toes.
Calluses and corns can be prevented by:
• Having your feet professionally measured and buy only properly fitting shoes.
• Shopping for your shoes at the end of the day when feet are typically most swollen.
• Choosing shoes that allow up to a half-inch between your longest toe and the front of the shoe. If you can't wiggle your toes in your shoes, they're too tight.
• Avoiding shoes with sharply pointed toes and high heels.
If you must wear heels daily for work, try to decrease heel height as much as possible and wear athletic shoes if you need to walk long distances.
Hammer toes are a common and painful deformity in the three middle toes where they appear to always be bent. Causes of hammer toes include shoes that don't fit properly, foot injuries, bunions and rheumatoid arthritis.
Here are some tips to preventing hammertoes. All of the same suggestions for preventing calluses and corns apply here, as well as:
• Most people have one foot that's bigger than the other. Fit your shoes to the bigger foot.
• As you get older, feet get bigger. Get your feet measured every time you buy shoes.
• Don't go by shoe sizes. Shoe sizes vary among manufacturers so try them on before purchasing.
• The ball of your foot should fit into the widest part of the shoe.
• Check how the shoe is made. It should only bend in the ball of the foot (where your big toes bend). Any shoe that can be bent anywhere along the sole or twisted side to side is probably too flimsy.
• Never buy shoes that feel tight and expect them to stretch with wearing.
• Avoid shoes with a lot of stitching or multiple pieces of fabric, as these stitched areas tend not to stretch to accommodate various toe deformities.
• Your shoes shouldn't ride up and down on your heel as you walk.
A bunion is an unnatural, bony hump that forms at the base of the big toe where it attaches to the foot. Bunions can be extremely painful. Add to that the fact that they can create excess pressure and friction from shoes which can then lead to calluses. On your bunion. Not fun.
Preventing bunions, once again, can be done by applying the tips we've shared so far (such as making sure your shoes fit properly, etc.), as well as:
• Perform bunion exercises to help keep the toe joint flexible. You can do this by attempting to pick up small objects with your toes. It's fun and great at parties.
• Elevate your feet periodically throughout the day to reduce pressure.
Now that we have covered the foot, let's discuss how the rest of the leg and body can be affected by high heels.
Wearing high heels (on a daily basis especially) can shorten your Achilles tendon. The Achilles tendon is the thickest and strongest tendon in the human body and serves to connect the calf muscle to the heel. (In other words, a very important tendon.) Since the Achilles is attached to the calf muscle, it's easy to understand how high heels can also overload the calf muscle, causing it to work harder and increasing risk of injury. Also, the constant forward push created by high heels can cause your spine and hips to become misaligned.
Here are some exercises that can be done to help alleviate pain and prevent injury:
• Balancing "T": Stand on a pillow (to create an unstable surface) with one foot. Extend both arms out to the sides at shoulder height. Lean forward from your hips while simultaneously extending your other leg backward. (Your body should form a "T.") Hold for 30 seconds, and then repeat on the other side.
• Achilles Stretch: Hang your heel off of the bottom step of a stair or curb. Hold for a count of 10, and then switch legs. If you need support, hold onto the wall or the railing. Repeat two times on each side.
• Diving: Stand tall and extend your arms in front of your body. Point your fingers ahead and continuously reach them forward as if you are diving into a pool. Hold for a count of 10, and then return to standing tall. Repeat two or three times.
• Ankle Circles: While sitting in a chair, extend one foot out and make circles with each foot in the air, for 20 seconds in each direction.
• Calf Stretch: Raise your toes against the wall and keep your heel on the floor. Lean forward and stretch, holding for 12-15 seconds.
• Basic Squats: Stand with your feet hip width apart. Bend your knees and sit your hips behind you (as if sitting in an imaginary chair), then return to standing. Perform three sets of 20 repetitions.
• Lower back "Superman": Lie on your stomach with your hands and legs stretched out. Raise your left leg and your right hand at the same time, hold for three seconds, then alternate legs and hands.
• Ball Rolls: Roll your foot over a tennis ball or golf ball on the floor to increase blood flow and alleviate foot pain and cramps with a gentle massage.
I hope that with these tips that you can continue to look fabulous in those stilettos and, more importantly, feel less pain while wearing those gorgeous pumps.
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