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Don't Let High Heels Kill Your Feet

You don't have to give up your favorite shoes to be comfortable.

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Cool Your Heels

Podiatrists have long warned women that high fashion in footwear comes with a high price. And with each added inch of stiletto heel, a woman teeters closer to a long list of painful problems: hammer toes, calluses, bunions, backaches, sprained ankles, swollen knees, and tight Achilles tendons.

But for many women, fashion trumps comfort, and they won't be caught flat-footed when they're out and about. With some extra thought at the shoe store and a few simple stretches, women can step out in style without suffering, says Jinsup Song, director of the Gait Study Center at Temple University School of Podiatric Medicine in Philadelphia.

For starters, you'll get a more comfortable fit if you go shoe shopping at the end of the day, when your feet are slightly swollen. Don't forget, the taller and skinnier a heel gets, the more potentially harmful the shoe becomes. Also keep in mind that partially open-toe styles put less stress on the toes.

Try to save your highest high-fashion heels for occasions that don't require a lot of walking or standing around for hours on end. Finally, remember that there's no such thing as breaking in a shoe. If it doesn't feel good at the start, it won't get any better later.

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Damage Control

When a social occasion absolutely requires killer high heels, try these easy stretches to avoid damage to your Achilles tendons, hamstrings, and calf muscles. Gently hold each stretch for a minimum of 30 seconds.

  • For the calf: Place one foot on the first stair or ledge; bend the toe upward, and slowly reach for the tops of the toes with both hands.
  • For the Achilles: Stand in lunge position, with both hands on a wall and both heels on the ground, the front leg bent and the back leg straight. Hold, then switch legs.
  • For the hamstrings: Cross one foot in front of the other and bend forward at the waist until you feel the pull. Switch legs and repeat.
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