They may pinch your toes and hurt your arches, but a sexy pair of high heels is often irresistible. That’s why nearly 40 percent of women wear them every day, according to a survey by the American Podiatric Medical Association. Over time, high heels can do more than just make your feet ache, says Benjamin Gelfand, a physical therapist and co-owner of Sports Therapy and Rehabilitation in New York City.
“Walking in heels two inches or higher tightens and weakens the calf muscles,” explains Gelfand. “That makes you susceptible to Achilles tendinitis, an inflammation about two inches above the heel bone.” Instead of ditching your favorite pair of heels, take off your shoes as much as you can during the day and do these four simple stretches. Designed by Gelfand, they’ll soothe and strengthen the Achilles tendon and the surrounding calf and foot muscles.
1. Single-Leg Stance
Stand on your left leg and raise your right knee until your thigh is parallel to the floor. Keep your arms at your sides and tighten your abdominal muscles. Hold for 30 seconds. If you feel unstable, rest your hands briefly on a chair in front of you. Do 5 repetitions on each leg. Increase the challenge by standing on a pillow.
Benefits: Strengthens the lower leg muscles and improves balance.
Stand on the balls of your feet at the edge of a step, and hold on to a banister or a wall for balance. Lower your heels slowly as far as you comfortably can [A], feeling a stretch that runs from the calf down to the back of your heel. Hold for 30 seconds. Raise your heels [B], then lower them again, this time with your knees slightly bent. Do 5 repetitions of both stretches.
Sit on the floor with your left leg bent and your left heel resting against your right thigh. Extend your right leg in front of you. Wrap a long towel around the arch of your right foot and hold the ends of the towel with both hands. Point your toes away from you and hold for 15 seconds, keeping the towel pulled tight. Release. Do three sets of 15 repetitions on each side.
Sit on the floor with your left leg bent and your left heel
resting against your right thigh. Extend your right leg in front of you. Wrap a long towel around the arch of your right foot and hold the ends of the towel with both hands. Gently bend forward, bringing your chest toward your toes while simultaneously pulling on the towel and flexing your foot toward you. Hold for 30 seconds. Do the stretch 5 times on each side. Benefits: Increases the flexibility of the calf muscles and Achilles tendon.