Dancing in High Heels? Women… this one’s for you!
Cinderella went to the ball. She met her Prince Charming, they danced all night and when the clock struck midnight, she went home floating on cloud nine. Right? Wrong! The true story is…
She went to the ball and danced with her Prince Charming passionately all night. All her dreams were coming true as she was swaying in his arms, moving elegantly across the ballroom floor in front of 5,000 royal guests. Suddenly the clock struck midnight.. she sobered, then bolted out the door, down the staircase (losing her glass slipper as she ran) and burst into the night. Once through the palace gates, she yanked off her other shoe, writhing in pain.
Standing barefoot in her rags, Cinderella burst into tears… because her feet hurt!
Let’s face it, dancing in heels is nothing new.
High heels are paramount for showing off beautiful legs and at times for executing certain steps to perfection but, they can also cause their owners excruciating pain and suffering! Here are a few key ways to reduce discomfort and pain in your feet, as well as how to look after them so that you minimise the risk of causing damage to the joints, ligaments and bones as a result of wearing high heels over a prolonged period of time. To all the Prince Charming’s out there (men), you may also learn a thing or two and most importantly, 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 should aim to take about 10,000 steps a day, according to the Australian National Heart Foundation. 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.
Take Note: The resulting damage is not pretty
Normal “Wear and Tear” vs. Something More Serious.
Those beautiful high heels can have serious consequences, so it’s important to be able to tell the difference between normal “wear and tear” and the start of something more serious. Wearing high heels either incorrectly or for prolonged periods of time could lead to bunions, heel pain, calluses, metatarsalgia (swelling of the joint at the base of the big toe), toe deformities, shortened Achilles tendons, trapped nerves, neuromas, shooting pain into the toes, ingrown toenails, and even stress fractures to name a few. These foot maladies are NOT normal wear and tear! Women account for about 90% of the nearly 800,000 (USA) 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. (Phew! Thank God)
Our High Pain Tolerance
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 generally be hurting from dancing!
In our world, we normally stick on a band-aid and keep going. If you do this without addressing the problems, your feet will eventually betray you, and your active social dancing life (or dance career) may come to a halt too soon, just 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!
Don’t worry, there is good news!
The best way to look after your high-heel-wearing feet is to prevent problems before they start. If that’s not possible, know your course of action for the most common issues, before it becomes a problem!
To do this, apply the following foot-care, muscle strengthening, shoe shopping and post-heel wearing tips!
High Heels & Footcare: The Basics, Remedies and Tips
The following are suggestions for basic foot care, shoe care, remedies and prevention ideas but as always, you should find a good podiatrist to help you with any particular foot issues.
Wearing Dance Shoes and High Heels
1) Wear appropriate and properly fitted, quality dance shoes that ‘hug’ and support your feet properly (no strap should be loose, your toes should reach the very end of the shoe, no gaps anywhere). To start with, buy a dance heel with an ankle or crossover strap (sometimes this goes underneath the sole of the shoe) or a t-strap design. These styles make it easier and more comfortable to dance in because they help keep the shoe from sliding off, support your foot better and are generally better for balance.
2) Wear comfortable and well fitted fashion heels, sporty heels or designer heels, preferably in natural materials. Leather shoes generally last longer, they will gradually mold themselves to the shape of your feet and are also the easiest material to stretch a bit, should you need to.
3) Start with a lower 2-3 inch heel and work your way up to 4-5 inches. First, practice walking in them (just around your house is fine) and then start with some slow dance steps on your own, progressing to faster steps and dance styles. When you feel relatively accustomed to them and on balance, then you can try with a partner.
4) Use things like cushion (gel) pads for the balls of your feet, gel strips for the back of your heels where the back of your shoe may rub, apply a band-aid when you first put your shoes on if you know a particular pair of shoes is likely to rub your toes.
5) Give your feet a break! Wear flats after dancing hard in heels. Tip: Carry a fold-able pair of ballet flats in your handbag!
Shopping For Shoes & Shoe Care
1) It’s a good idea to buy shoes from a shop or dance studio so you can try them on! Not only can you get assistance to make sure the shoe fits properly, you can use them straight away! Online purchases are risky for that simple reason, however, once you do manage to find a good dance shoe purchase online, the only difference between the two ways of buying is the wait time / shipping time for your order.
2) 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.
3) Try shoes on both feet. Many people have one foot larger than the other. It’s best to fit the larger one.
4) If you are planning on wearing insoles, bring a new pair of insoles with you when you try your dance shoes on. Try a half size up if the padding makes them too tight.
5) In general, you should own more than one pair of dance shoes and alternate wearing them.
6) Ensure all your shoes, dance heels or otherwise, are kept in good condition. Check heel tips to be in tact, check that soles aren’t peeling or coming off, only wear your dance shoes on the recommended floor eg. don’t wear suede-heeled shoes outside on concrete etc. You don’t want your feet or muscles to compensate for worn-out shoes.
7) Throw your old dance shoes away! Before you know it, new shoes become old and the support gives way, putting your ligaments at risk.
8) 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.
Foot and Muscle Care
• Warm up before dancing or doing sports, at any age.
• 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.
• Coaching shoes that lace up should be snug, not stretched out. Try on different heel heights.
• When your feet hurt, use an ice pack to reduce inflammation.
• Rub some Voltaren Gel (anti-imflammatory) into your sore muscles.
• Rub some Arnica cream (Homeopathic remedy)
• Consider adding supplements like Glucosamine / Chondroitin to your daily routine in order to help repair and rebuild joints from the inside.
• If you must take anti-inflammatory medication, consider taking Ibuprofen or Advil to reduce the pain, but only if you must.
• Finally, for serious afflictions and as a last resort, you may be advised by your podiatrist to get cortisone shots or Restylane injections for padding (only works for a few months, but Hollywood celebs do it).
Longterm foot care is just as important!
Get a Massage
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. Try these:
• 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 even more! (You can wipe down before or after with travel wet-wipes that you keep in your dance bag.)
Give Yourself a Massage
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).
Strengthen Your Feet
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) 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.
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.
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 proactive in 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.