Thursday, October 1, 2015

Wearing high heels comfortably

To be clear, any podiatrist or physical therapist you ever talk to will tell you not to wear higher than 2" heels, at least not on a regular basis.  And they will tell you to wear wide chunky heels that are nice and stable.  But hey, you want to wear heels anyway?  Here are my tips to doing so somewhat comfortably.  These are just the things that I've figured out over the years work well for me.

I obviously wear fairly high heels fairly often to work.  And I often teach 3 hour classes on my feet in them, go 10-11 hour days, including carrying a toddler around for a little while.  Over time I've realized that there are a lot of things I do to make wearing heels more comfortable and practical that are just a part of my regular life, but that others might not think of.  I figured it might be helpful if I share some of these tips and tricks that I've figured out over the years.

  1. Buy good shoes!  One woman I know was complaining about how she can never wear heels.  It turns out she was buying them from Payless Shoe Source.  You don't have to buy $500 shoes, but there are some features that you should look for, and that most $15 shoes won't have: 
    1. The shoe should be well balanced so it stands up on it's own, and it feels stable when you rock your ankle around a bit trying them on.  Basically the shoe should do the work of keeping your ankle stable, so you don't have to constantly work at it.  (You'll have to work at it a little anyway.)
    2. The slope of the arch and where the sloped part starts and ends feels right on your foot.
    3. There is sufficient padding or support under the ball of your foot (which will support more of your weight in heels than in flats). 
    4. Your toes are not squished, pressed, and definitely not being forced into unnatural angles. 
    5. The bottom of the shoe (both in the front and at the bottom of the heel) has sufficient grip that you won't be sliding.  For leather-soled shoes you will have to rough them up before this is the case, but I've found that for artificial materials the starting level of slickness is a pretty good indicator of what they will be like. 
  2. Work your way up.  If you don't wear heels often, or you haven't worn them in a while, then start by wearing lower or chunkier heels or wedges, which are easier to walk in.  Wear them on days when you have a shorter day or less standing/walking than usual.  And gradually work your way up. You are developing certain special muscles, and just like with exercise, you want to gradually build up.  You also want to give your body a chance to rest and recover.  And know your limit - for most of us 3" or 3 1/2" is a reasonable limit.  Yes, I sometimes go higher, but I keep it to at most two days a week, and never on teaching days. I will never "work my way up" to 4" heels every day, or to *ever* wearing a 4 1/2" heel without a platform.  It just wouldn't work for me.  For some of us, we'll never really work our way over 2 1/2", and that's fine.  But you still don't want to go from wearing sneakers all the time to wearing 2 1/2" heels every day - work your way up.
  3. Take your heels off when you drive.  We Californians spend a lot of time in our cars.  I almost always take my heels off (especially 4" skinny heels) when I'm driving.  It makes a huge difference to how my feet, ankles and calves feel at the end of the day.  
    1. The public transportation analogue to this: have a pair of flats or flip flops that you can wear for your commute and then change into your heels just before going in to the office (or once you get there).  I sometimes did this back when I lived in Boston.  
  4. Use a rocking foot-rest, sloped foot-rest, or take your shoes off at your desk.  One person I know takes her shoes off, turns them around, and then uses them as a sloped foot rest!  Obviously I wouldn't actually take my shoes off.  ;)  So I have a rocking foot-rest that I keep at an angle that offsets my heels, and that I occasionally rock back and forth.  This means that even though I'm wearing heels for a 10-11 hour day, for most of the time, when I'm sitting at my desk, my feet feel pretty much as if I am wearing flats.
  5. Stretch!  At the end of every day, some time between coming home and taking off those heels and going to bed, do a full set of leg, hip and butt stretches.  Most importantly, stretch your calf and hamstring out really well.  Sometimes I will do some calf stretches mid-day as well.
  6. Protect your arches.  This means both exercising them to strengthen them, and massaging them to relieve tightness and increase blood flow.  The image I've put here includes exercises targeted to people with plantar fasciitis, but the exact same set of exercises can strengthen your feet for wearing heels.  Toe grasping exercises work well with a towel too (or some imaginary item, once you get the hang of it).  To massage my arches, I use a tennis ball which I put on the floor and roll around under my foot, putting just enough weight onto it to get a good massage. And, along the "protect your arches" idea - in certain shoes you may want to add additional arch supports.  I do this in most of my flats, but for me personally I don't need the extra arch support in heels.  I only buy heels that have a good slope/arch for my feet.
SO, why do I do all of this?  Because I love my heels, but I want to be (relatively) comfortable and I want my feet and legs to stay healthy.  So if you also like wearing heels, I hope a couple of my tips are helpful.  And if you just really don't care enough about wearing heels to do this stuff - then you're probably a little more normal than me.  :)

    1 comment:

    1. what a fun article! i wear heels only at seminars and presentations now, so it's only a few days a month. but all these are great tips!!!