They Look Good, but How They Hurt!
22 Nov 2004
WOMEN IN HIGH HEELS!
“SHE DANCED PASSIONATELY ALL NIGHT, sequined and feathered in colorful silks, her lovely head and heart bursting with joy. Suddenly she sobered... then bolted out the door, down the staircase...losing a tiny shoe as she ran. Once through the hedge, she yanked off the other shoe, writhing in pain. Standing barefoot in rags, Cinderella burst into tears...
...BECAUSE HER FEET HURT!”
Let’s face it, high heels are paramount for showing off beautiful legs, but they can cause their owners excruciating pain. Not only do high heels hurt while you wear them, over time they can cause damage to the joints, ligaments, and bones of your feet. Recently three different women complained to me of chronic pain serious enough to interfere with their dancing. I consulted with several podiatrists and I bring you my findings. (Men: you may also learn a thing or two from this article, and if you have a lady who puts on heels for you, there’s a special section on how you can keep the lady’s feet happy).
The average person takes about 10,000 steps a day, according to the American Orthopedic Foot and Ankle Society. Dancers probably take twice as many. High heels shift most of the the pressure to the ball of the foot and the joint at the base of the toes. A 3-inch heel creates six times more stress on the front of the foot than a one-inch heel. The higher the heel, the greater the pressure on the ball of your foot.
THE RESULTING DAMAGE IS NOT PRETTY
Those beautiful high heels can lead to metatarsalgia (swelling of the joint at the base of the big toe), bunions, heel pain, calluses, toe deformities, shortened Achilles tendons, and trapped nerves. The list goes on: neuromas, shooting pain into the toes, ingrown toenails, and even stress fractures. These foot maladies are NOT normal wear and tear! Women account for about 90% of the nearly 800,000 operations each year for bunions, hammer toes and trapped nerves. Most of these surgeries can be linked back to wearing high-heeled shoes. Yet our love for them endures, and the high heel lives on.
OVERUSE SYNDROME INJURIES
As dancers, we become accustomed to a certain amount of pain. The artist / athlete in us doesn’t dare complain too loudly. If you dance in high heels frequently, there’s not a lot of time for your feet to recover between taking your dance shoes OFF and putting them ON again. However, your feet should NOT be hurting from dancing! In our competitive world, we ignore cries of help from ‘down there’, we gulp a few ibuprofen and keep going. If you do this without addressing the problems, your feet will eventually betray you, and your dance career may end too soon ~ because you wouldn’t listen! You could end up with painful scar tissue, cycles of pain/inflammation, and unnatural compensation by other muscles. How we suffer for our art!
YOU NEED NOT BE VICTIM of the foot vs. shoe war. Let’s look at both PREVENTION and CURE for the sake of our feet.
HOW TO CARE FOR THESE PUPPIES
We all know how to keep our biceps in shape, but few know how to keep feet and toes in good condition. Our feet contain 26 bones each, 33 joints, 107 ligaments, 19 muscles, and numerous tendons, nerves, and blood vessels. These compact biological masterpieces need a strengthening program of their own. Here are exercises to strengthen your toes and feet.
1) Toe Raise, Toe Point, Toe Curl:
Hold each position for five seconds and repeat ten times.
2) Toe Squeeze:
Place small corks or toe guards between toes and squeeze for five seconds. Repeat 10 times.
3) The Golf Ball
Roll a golf ball under the ball of your foot for two minutes. Great for foot cramps.
4) YAMUNA BALLS:
A half-ball, smaller than a tennis ball but firmer. REALLY great exercise/stretch for the sore metatarsal joint. Stand on the half-ball, spreading out the metatarsal and arch. This stretches the calf as well. Contact Bija through the web site (www.bodiesbybija.com) to purchase a set of these wonderful foot tools.
5) Sand Walking:
Any chance you get, take off your shoes and walk in the sand. Massages and exfoliates your feet, strengthens your toes.
6) Marble Pickup:
Place a handful marbles on the floor. Pick up one marble at a time and put them in a small bowl. Then take them all out again, one by one.
7) Towel Curls:
Place a small towel on the floor and curl it toward you, using only your toes.
Surely you’ve had a great foot massage at some point in your life! You should get good at giving them too. (Guys, you listening?) A foot rub can be brief or quite indulgent, but is ALWAYS welcome. The main thing is do what YOU know feels good:
• squeeze the heel
• rub the arch
• bend the big toe joint carefully
• flex and point the ankle
• gently pull on the toes
• massage the calf muscle
If you use lotion or oil, it is even better. THIS will make your lady appreciate you! (You can wipe down before or after with travel wet-wipes that you keep in your dance bag.)
MASSAGE YOUR OWN FEET
Even if you are stiff and it’s hard to get your hands on your own feet, you should give them a thorough treatment; to relieve the aches, manually increase range of motion, and stretch all the muscles. You could do this before dancing, right after dancing when you take your shoes off, first thing in the morning, or at night. There is no bad time for a foot massage! It removes waste products from the muscles, and increases circulation (which aids healing and recovery).
STRETCH YOUR CALVES
The muscles in the calf are shortened in high heels, and you should stretch them every time you wear them. Stand on a step, or a thick book, and let your heels hang down. Relax. Stay there 60 seconds or more. This is probably the most important thing to do after wearing high heels.
MORE IMPORTANT FOOT CARE BASICS!
• FIND A PODIATRIST to help you with your particular foot issues.
• Wear appropriate, properly fitted dance shoes, sports shoes, and ‘fashion’ shoes. Put metatarsal pads in those Manolo Blahniks!
• Warm up before dancing or doing sports, at any age.
• Shop for shoes in the afternoon. Your feet tend to swell during the day, and it's best to buy shoes to fit you then.
• Try shoes on both feet. Many people have one foot larger than the other. It's best to fit the larger one.
• SPENCOS or DR SCHOLLS inserts are a ‘must’ for your dance shoes. If this makes your shoe too tight, use just the metatarsal part.
• Take clean new insoles with you when you try on new dance shoes. Try a half size up if the padding makes them too tight.
• Give your feet a BREAK! Wear flats after dancing hard in heels.
• Have more than one pair of dance shoes, and alternate wearing them.
• THROW YOUR OLD SHOES AWAY! Before you know it, new shoes become old and the support gives way, putting your ligaments at risk.
• Replace the insoles when they wear out as well. You might go through a couple pairs pairs of insoles for the life of every dance shoe.
• Trim your toenails straight across with clippers specially designed for the purpose.
• Leave toenails slightly longer than the tips of your toes.
• Lose weight (if you need to) for less pressure on your feet.
• Try THORLO socks; slightly thicker, they wick moisture away, and support your feet. They come in black and white. (from www.sockco.com).
• Coaching shoes that lace up should be snug, not stretched out. Try on different heel heights.
• Use ice when your feet hurt, to reduce inflammation.
• Ibuprofen GEL can be purchased from www.Johnsondrug.com but requires a prescription. Rub the gel into your sore muscles instead of taking it internally. This works!
• Joint Rescue Gel (from www.PeacefulMountain.com) or Arnica gel are homeopathic remedies you can rub on.
• Glucosamine / Chondroitin helps to repair and rebuild joints from the inside.
• Take non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication (Advil, Motrin) to reduce the pain and inflammation (if you must).
• Last ditch efforts: cortisone shots, Restylane injections for padding (only works for a few months, but Hollywood celebs do it).
TREASURE YOUR FEET!
We love dancing like life itself, so there’s no going back! And high heels are an important part of the package. OK, we accept this. Just be on the lookout for signs of trouble, and get Pro-Active with your foot care. Extreme foot pain is NOT normal, and is directly related to improper shoe fit, overuse, lack of stretching, insufficient rest, and muscle imbalance. Despite what you're willing to tolerate as a lover of dancing, you may underestimate the damage high heels can cause. You work so hard at getting fit and staying healthy otherwise, please be smart, and take good care of your tootsies! It’s easier to prevent injuries than to cure them.