Block and stacked heels and platform shoes will come and go. Stilettos are forever.
Our feet kind of hate us for this, as do our backs, calves, knees…need I go on? A great pair of stilettos can complete a polished work look or up the ante for a night out, but as fantastic as they look in the moment, there’s a price for beauty and our lower body pays for it every time.
“Our feet really are our foundation to how our bodies are aligned,” podiatrist Dr. Emily Splichal, creator of Catwalk Confidence and author of Unlock the Secrets to Movement Longevity, said. “If you shift any part of the foot, such as by wearing heels, you’re going to shift the alignment of the body and then that shifts where the body puts pressure, like to the knees, back, etc.”
That explains it, but what’s a stiletto lover to do? With flip-flop season over and sandals stashed in the back of our closets, it’s more important than ever to give your lower body some extra TLC. It’s the least you can do. To help you get back on your feet’s Christmas list, we turned to Splichal for expert tips on how to walk in heels like a pro.
The biggest question stiletto wearers ask Splichal is about height. They want a couple extra inches, but they don’t want their lower bodies screaming at them. “Three inches is your best bet,” she said. “It’s the borderline threshold that doesn’t stress the body.” That doesn’t mean your six-inch pair can never be worn again. In fact, Splichal recommends switching up your shoes and heel heights to avoid repetitive stress on the body. Just make sure you pencil in some kitten heel and maybe even—gasp—ballet flat days on your planner.
Stiletto strutters complain of aches in their lower bodies, but it all starts from the top. Keep your head high and your gaze in front of you. “Looking down causes a forward roll in the shoulders, which disrupts posture,” Splichal said. You’re too close to running the world to be looking down, anyway. Shoulders should be back and down to increase stability in the torso, and lift your core and pelvic floor. “That takes a lot of pressure, body weight and dead weight off the foot and makes you much more stable in heels,” she said. In the age of Vine and Periscope, the last thing you need is a wipe out.
Trouble Spots and Quick Fixes
There are a couple body parts our pumps really put through the ringer, but, according to Splichal, there are quick-fixes for all of them.
Ball of Foot
Soothe the pain and improve circulation on the ball of your foot by standing on a golf ball or Yamuna foot waker, which you can find on Amazon. “They release and break tension in the foot,” she said. Thankfully, it’s super simple to fit this into your busy schedule. Try while winding down with a good Netflix movie or your new favorite TV show.
Unsightly bunions were not what you signed up for when you picked out those chic black skyscraper heels you planned on wearing everywhere. Smaller toes can sometimes feel crushed, too. “If all of the body weight is aligning forward in the shoe you start to bunch up the toe and put extra pressure on the digits,” Splichal said. For your bunion problem, stock up on Bunion Bootie ($33.95, bunionbootie.com). Stop laughing. A Bunion Bootie slides over your big toe, separating it from the other toes to help temporarily improve toe alignment while relieving tension and pain near the joint. Essentially, “it undoes what heels do,” Splichal said. She likes spacers like Correct Toes ($65, nwfootankle.com) for your smaller digits.
Calves, Hips and Knees
When you wear heels, your calves, hips and achilles tighten because of the position your foot is in, and walking up stairs in stilettos can be just plain brutal for your knees during and after your trek. Try down dogs, standing calf stretches and hamstring stretches with a resistance band to avoid prolonging the pain because why would you want to do that?
Standing for long periods of time in heels can lead to soreness in your lower back. Relax your back and mind with some yoga. “All the warrior poses are really good, just stretch out the front of your leg,” Splichal said. Hip flexors are another one of her favorite fixes.
Stretching and simple exercises can quickly soothe pain, but a good workout regiment can help avoid you cursing the day you bought your most complimented pair of shoes. A general pilates workout is a great start. In her Catwalk Confidence workout, Splichal incorporates yoga, pilates and balance training to help improve strength and stability. “I get the women to stand up on one leg because to be able to walk in heels correctly, you have to be able to engage the core standing up,” she said.
You’ve got your workout plan and you know some quick fixes. Now, start scheduling in some regular TLC for the lower body that puts up with your shoe obsession. “Do a yoga class once a week,” Splichal suggested. “If women do wear heels a lot, at least once a month, get treatment like a foot massage. I swear by those.”