Anyone who’s ever squeezed into a pair of sky-high shoes knows heels can be hell on your feet. But the problems may not stop there. Wearing heels regularly can also affect your leg muscles over time, says podiatrist Bobby Pourziaee, a Los Angeles-based foot and ankle surgeon and the founder of the Spa on Rodeo. When you’re walking on tiptoes, your calf muscles are shortened—“and they can stay that way if heels are the only shoes you wear,” he explains.
But that doesn’t mean you need to toss your peep toes. Try to alternate between heels and supportive flats, says Dr. Pourziaee. “When the foot is in a non-heel shoe, it’s allowed to stretch and recover.”
Another simple way to stem the damage: Add these three easy exercises to your regular workout routine. They’re designed to target muscles in the calves and feet and around the ankles that can help protect against pain. Your tootsies will thank you.
Seated calf stretch with resistance band
Recovery from a long day or evening in heels starts with calf stretches: “Doing this will decrease the chance of the calf muscles shortening,” says Dr. Pourziaee. Start in a seated position with your legs extended, heels on the floor. Wrap a resistance band around the ball of one foot and pull the band toward you, keeping the leg straight. Hold for 30 seconds; then switch sides. Repeat three times.
Standing calf raises
To avoid a sprain from teetering around in stilettos, building up ankle strength is key, says Dr. Pourziaee. A study published last year in the International Journal of Clinical Practice found that over time, wearing heels regularly actually weakens the muscles around the ankles (and also leads to dramatically worse balance). To project your ankle joints, Dr. Pourziaee recommends doing standing calf raises every day. Stand with your feet hip-distance apart; slowly rise onto the balls of your feet, then lower your heels back to the ground. Do three sets of 20 reps.
Heel lovers shouldn’t forget about the intrinsic foot muscles, says Dr. Pourziaee. These are the small muscles that start and stop below the ankle. One great way to target them involves a paper towel: Place it on the ground, and using only your toes, grab it and release for about 30 seconds. Then switch feet. Repeat three times. “Stronger toes will help with balance, and also reduce the effects of having them smashed into a narrow [shoe],” Dr. Pourziaee says.
Treat soreness with TLC
If your feet are in pain, soaking them in a tub with warm water and Epsom salt for 15 minutes may help reduce any inflammation, says Dr. Pourziaee. And if you don’t have time for that, a five-minute foot massage with your favorite cream should offer some relief, he adds.