12/21/2012 03:09 pm ET Updated Feb 20, 2013

Avoid a High Heel Foot Makeover

Women love their high heels, so much so they are willing to endure all sorts of foot pain to wear them. Some people undergo foot surgery to continue wearing heels. High heel-caused foot pain (aka high heel hangover) can interfere with your active life. The best way to combat the high heel hangover, besides not wearing heels, is to prepare by getting your feet "high heel ready."

It's important to recognize that walking in high heels itself is unnatural. Over time, the body responds with three distinct physiologic changes. They are: 1) tightness in the calf muscle, 2) weakness of the toes and 3) ankle instability. Over time, structural foot changes (bunions, hammer toes, and arch collapse) may occur. If you are unclear as to what a bunion is or how severe they can become, read my previous HuffPost bunion blog and see the bunion severity scale.

Below is an easy program that I developed in collaboration with personal trainer Jay Lee (Tier III+, Equinox NYC 17th Street), specifically aimed at counteracting the effects of high heels. These three exercises can be performed in the gym or at home.

  1. Barefoot Squats: Squats in general are well-known to be an excellent way to strengthen the core and legs. Performing barefoot squats specially targets the foot by recruiting the small muscles of the toes to engage the ground. High heels specifically weaken the muscles of the foot, and barefoot squats will strengthen those muscles. Body weight squats will suffice, as the goal is to activate the foot. Focus should be on grabbing the floor with the toes on each rise.
  2. Calf muscle stretches: Most foot health specialists consider a tight calf the cause of several painful foot problems. High heels specifically cause shorten the achilles tendon and tighten the calf muscles. The higher the heels, the worse the shortening. Yoga is excellent at stretching the lower body, and specifically downward facing dog pose. Daily stretching is recommend.
  3. Single Leg Dead Lifts: Because high heel walking can cause weakness and instability of the ankle, its important to focus on keeping the balance and spatial centers of the body active. Single leg dead lifts are a powerful exercise that promotes strength, balance and flexibility. This requires no additional weight to be effective, and one should pay attention to form. With regard to high heel wearing, particular focus is to strengthen the outer muscles (peroneals) of the lower legs that prevents the ankle from twisting inward.

As a reconstructive foot surgeon in Manhattan, I see many high heel-created foot problems that go on to surgery. Bunionplasty from high heels are common. I can tell you that getting your feet strong is the first step at putting off or preventing a high heel foot makeover.

If you decide to wear heels, get your feet high heel ready.

-- Dr. Blitz, New York City

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