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High-heel survival guide

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High heels may never go out of style. Use these tips to keep your calves and feet strong and reduce risk of injury.

Photo by Amanda Vick on Unsplash

There is no doubt that high-heeled shoes like heels, wedges and stilettos are a powerful symbol of modern femininity. High-heeled shoes in their various forms are used all over the world in a multitude of situations from workplaces to social events. Despite their ubiquitous presence and longtime use, wearing high heels can pose a certain health risk to wearers.

Studies have highlighted the potential hazard of climbing stairs in high heels, while others have indicated the physiological impact of wearing heels, which could predispose women to a greater risk of falling even when they are not wearing high heels. This is due to evidence that the Achilles tendon can stiffen and shorten with high heel use, reducing mobility at the ankle, thus increasing the likelihood of falling.

A major finding from a recent systematic review in the journal BMJ Open revealed there is strong evidence high heels are associated with first-party injury, meaning their use could cause direct injury. Moreover, the balance of evidence favours an association between high heels and increased risk of both bunions and musculoskeletal pain. There is how- ever, some good news for high-heel wearers. No evidence was found of an association between high heel use and osteoarthritis in the foot or toes.

Despite their potential health risks, high heels aren’t going anywhere soon. They are firmly rooted in many cultures and fashion that make them a mainstay in today’s society.

So, if we won’t stop wearing them, what can be done about the pain asso- ciated with their use? Here are some quick stretches and exercises that can help make heel use a lot less painful.

Ankle mobility: while sitting down, rotate the ankle clockwise, counter clockwise and in a pedal-pulse motion for three sets of 20. This should be done before putting on heeled shoes and throughout the day (preferably without wearing the shoes).

Calf stretch: stand facing a wall in a lunge position, with both hands against the wall. Bend the knee of the front leg (your big toe should be visible in order to reduce injury). Keep the knee of the back leg straight. With the heel of the back leg planted, lunge forward until a gentle stretch is felt in the back part of the calf. Perform three sets of 10, hold- ing for five seconds.

Towel stretch: while sitting down, wrap a towel under the toes of one foot. Then, holding the ends of the towel, gently pull back until a gentle stretch is felt in the calf. This is a great exercise to perform before you get out of bed! Perform three sets of 10, hold- ing for five seconds.

More Insight: Check out this great article on walking styles for health.

Authors: Drs. Marco and Paolo De Ciantis are Toronto-based chiropractic doctors and co-owners of Sports Specialist Rehab Centre. The identical twins specialize in pain and injury prevention, working with a range of patients from athletes looking to improve their performance to individuals who simply want day-to-day tasks to be easier, in an effort to restore optimal well- being.


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