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Lori KirwanGary Hills

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Yes, I know why we all love high heels. They create super-long, lithe and seemingly leaner legs, a sleek silhouette, and a sexy cat walk. That's what they're are all about. But how do we feel after just a few hours in heels, let alone a full day? Dying to get them off!

In addition to feeling uncomfortable, high heels can potentially do damage to your body. They shift the body's centre of gravity forward, making the spine, hips, knees and ankles compensate. If you have preexisting back or knee problems, you may need to hang up your heels or take them down a few centimetres. While it would be nearly impossible to ban the high heel, there are ways to mitigate the damage. A regular stretching and strengthening program for the ankles, legs, hips and back is a start.

At Hard Candy Fitness we offer a class in how to get strong, long legs and safely wear those stilettos. Here are a few of our top pointers:

For the back:

  • Engage your core muscles. This will help support your spine and will at least help prevent instability. How? The core muscle called the transversus abdominus (TA) wraps around the waist like a corset. All you need to do is pull the tummy in a bit – but not to the point where you hold your breath. I always tell my participants to pretend they are being photographed in their bikini underwear. Suck it in.

For the knees, calves and ankles:

  • Heels put significantly more pressure on the inside of the knee, which is a common site of osteoarthritis. So engage in a regular strengthening program that targets the medial quadriceps, such as isometric quadriceps contractions. You can do this anywhere. I do it first thing in the morning while in bed before I get up. I straighten out my knee and squeeze the quads and make the muscles burn and then relax and repeat. By doing this, I keep the medial quad stimulated and strong.
  • When wearing heels, the calves are contracted and the Achilles tendon is shortened. Over time the muscles and tendon may become chronically short and stiff. The implication is that when you take your heels off and walk in bare flat feet – or even more detrimental when you put on your running shoes and start to exercise – you are at risk for Achilles tendonitis and/or damage.
  • Stretch your calves several times a day while wearing heels. Before you stretch, massage the calves and try to loosen them up. If you stretch too aggressively right out of heels you could damage the Achilles tendon. Try using a rolling pin to roll out the calves. And when going from heels to running shoes, use caution. Take time to stretch out the calves and mobilize the ankles before you get active.
  • Stretch the ankles and do exercises that mobilize the ankle joint daily.

For the toes and feet:

  • The foot is negatively affected by not only heel height but also a narrow toe box (pointed toes). The combination of these two factors can create a thickening of tissue around a nerve between the third and fourth toe which can lead to a condition called Morton’s neuroma (pain and numbness in the toes). Keep golf balls under your desk and take your shoes off during the day and roll the bottoms of the feet.
  • Take your shoes off and also massage the tops and bottoms of the feet if you can through the day.
  • Bunions are caused by tight fitting shoes around the bony growth joint at the base of the big toe which forces the big toe to angle in towards the other toes. If you have a genetic predisposition to bunions (look at mom and dad’s feet) you could try prevention pads on before you develop the painful bunion. Check the foot aisle to get the newest models that are made of gel and are really comfortable.

And, finally, don't drink and strut:

  • Drinking alcohol impairs balance and co-ordination so stepping out to club or party in high heels is a recipe for disaster. Dr. Ravi Rughani (an emergency physician at a variety of Toronto hospitals) says that an alcohol related fall may cause more than just a twisted ankle or broken wrist. “When alcohol is involved the fall might even be fatal if the head or neck suffer trauma,” he told me.

OMG be careful in those heels!

Lori Kirwan is a Toronto fitness instructor and trainer with a Ph.D in Exercise Physiology from University of Toronto. In her current work at the Madonna-owned in Toronto, Kirwan has developed her own signature classes including high-intensity training (Tornado), athletic reformer training (Transformer) and a fun, challenging power yoga to the heavy beats of electronic music (Electric Yoga). You can follow her on Twitter at @lorihardcandy